Otoplasty (ear surgery) is a cosmetic surgery procedure that aims to improve the appearance of the ears. Otoplasty may provides significant psychological benefits to anyone who is dissatisfied with the appearance of their ears, is teased about ear size and/or shape, or has suffered any trauma or injury to the ears. Otoplasty is most often performed to set back protruding ears closer to the head (ear pinning), to correct abnormal ear shape, or to reduce the size of excessively large ears. A limited procedure may also achieve earlobe repair, to surgically correct stretched out, elongated earlobes, or fully or partially torn earlobes. Otoplasty may also be helpful in repairing the following:
- Abnormal ear cartilage shape (lop ear, Stahl’s ear)
- Cauliflower ear (which results from repeated trauma and multiple hematomas)
- Large, stretched or torn earlobes
- Earlobes with large creases and wrinkles
- Microtia (abnormally small ears)
- Accessory ear cartilage (present as buds in front of the ear)
New ears or parts of ears can be constructed for patients who are missing them from causes that include birth defects, severe injuries and skin cancers.
Candidates For Otoplasty
People of any age who feel self-conscious about their ears may be good candidates for otoplasty, although it is typically performed on children between 5 and 15 years old. Ears are almost fully developed by the of age 5, so early surgery can help create self-confidence when a child begins going to school and avoid the stigma of being called names for having “Dumbo ears”. Not everyone is a candidate for otoplasty; a patient must be in good general health, and have realistic expectations about what it can do.
Otoplasty generally takes 1 to 2 hours, and is performed on an outpatient basis. The type of anesthesia used typically depends on the age of the patient, with general anesthesia recommended for younger patients, and local anesthesia with sedation recommended for older children and adults.
Otoplasty begins with a small incision being made behind the ear, in the natural crease where the ear meets the head. The cartilage is then shaped and sutured to achieve the desired appearance. In some types of otoplasty, skin is removed, but the cartilage is left intact and merely folded back and sutured to create a less protruding ear.
After sculpting the cartilage to the desired shape, sutures and a bandage are used to hold the ears in position until healing is complete. In cases in which one ear may be more malformed than the other, or where only one is significantly misshapen, both ears may still be operated on to achieve better symmetry.
Recovery After Otoplasty
Although the ears may ache or throb for a few days, a patient usually feels close to normal within hours of the surgery’s completion. Medication is prescribed to help alleviate any discomfort. A few days after otoplasty, the bandages around the head are replaced with a surgical dressing that is worn for about a week, at which point the stitches may need to be removed. Otoplasty patients should avoid sleeping on their sides for the first 2 weeks after surgery. About 2 weeks following otoplasty, most patients are able to return to their normal routines.
After the ears have healed completely, they usually have faint scars on their posterior surfaces. The scars typically fade with time and, because of their strategic placement, are virtually invisible.
Risks And Complications Of Otoplasty
Complications of otoplasty are rare and usually minor. A small percentage of otoplasty patients develops a blood clot on the ear or an infection in the suture line. These issues may resolve on their own or be treated medically through intervention or antibiotics. Other possible complications include a change in skin sensation at the surgical site. There is also a possibility that a patient will not be satisfied with the appearance of the ears after surgery. Once the final result is achieved the ears may not match exactly, as ears are not entirely symmetrical naturally.