Ear Surgery (Otoplasty)
Ear Surgery Quick Facts
- Best Candidates: Children and adults with overly prominent or protruding ears
- Procedure Length: 2 to 3 hours
- Inpatient/Outpatient: Usually Outpatient
- Anesthesia: Local with sedation or general
- Results: Permanent
- Procedures in 2020: 53,095 (source: American Society of Plastic Surgeons)
People with large or protruding ears can experience emotional distress and become self-conscious about their appearance. This is especially true for children, who may face teasing from classmates at school or on the playground.
Ear surgery (also called otoplasty) is a surgical procedure used to move the ears closer to the head, reduce the ears in size and reshape the ears. The majority of ear surgery patients successfully achieve an improved appearance and an increase in self-confidence.
The procedure information contained in this article will give you a good introduction to ear surgery. Schedule a consultation with a Top Plastic Surgeon to receive a medical examination and discuss your options for ear surgery.
Ear Surgery Overview
Children with large, protruding ears can be traumatized by teasing from classmates at school and become very self-conscious. Ear surgery (otoplasty) is usually performed on children from 5 to 14 to provide the psychological benefits that come with growing up with more natural-looking ears. However, otoplasty can be performed at any age after the ears are fully developed to set the ears back closer to the head, reduce the size of large ears and/or reshape the ears. Otoplasty is also used to reconstruct ears for people with missing or deformed ears due to an injury or birth defect.
How Ear Surgery is Performed
Several different ear surgery techniques are used depending on the nature of the problem and the extent of the correction. A common technique begins with a small incision in the back of the ear to expose the cartilage. The plastic surgeon then trims and sculpts the cartilage before repositioning the ear closer to the head and securing it with non-removable stitches. In some cases, additional cartilage is removed to achieve the desired cosmetic results.
Another common technique involves reshaping of the ear without removing any cartilage. After a small incision in the back of the ear, excess skin is removed, the cartilage is folded back and non-removable stitches are used to maintain the cartilage in its new position.
Ear surgery usually takes 2 to 3 hours to complete, depending on the specifics of the surgery. The procedure may take place in your plastic surgeon's surgical facility, an outpatient surgery center or a hospital. Otoplasty is usually performed as an outpatient procedure, allowing the patient to return to the comfort of home on the same day as the surgery. In some cases, your surgeon may prefer that you or your child spend a night in the hospital under medical supervision.
Ear surgery can be performed using general anesthesia or local anesthesia coupled with sedation. General anesthesia allows the patient to sleep throughout the procedure and is usually recommended for young children. Depending on the preferences of you and your surgeon, older children and adults may use local anesthesia to numb the area of surgery along with a mild sedative that causes drowsiness.
The best candidates for ear surgery (otoplasty) are children or adults who would benefit psychologically and emotionally from smaller, more natural-looking ears that are in better proportion to the head and face.
In general, the best candidates for ear surgery:
- Are children ages 5 to 14 who may be self-conscious and experience emotional trauma caused by protruding or overly prominent ears.
- Are people of any age who feel that reshaping, resizing or moving the ears closer to the head would improve their appearance.
- Are people who require ear reconstruction due to an injury or birth defect.
- Are in good general health.
- Are well-informed about treatment options and have realistic expectations.
If you believe that you or your child may be a good candidate for ear surgery, a qualified plastic surgeon can perform an evaluation, explain anything about the procedure you don't understand, answer all of your questions and help you decide if the procedure is right for you.
Ear Surgery Risks
Complications are rare and usually minor when ear surgery is performed by a qualified plastic surgeon. However, all surgeries carry risks. To minimize your risk, carefully follow all of your surgeon's instructions both before and after the procedure. Contact your surgeon's office immediately if you experience any symptoms you believe may indicate a complication.
The most common risks associated with ear surgery (otoplasty) include:
- Blood clots
- Pain, swelling or bruising beyond normal levels
- Excessive bleeding
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia
- Loosening or breaking of stitches
- Dissatisfaction with results
The incision and resulting scar from ear surgery is usually well-hidden in natural skin creases on the back of the ear, resulting in no visible scarring. As the procedure involves only the outer structures of the ear, otoplasty does not affect hearing.
Ear Surgery Costs
According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the national average surgeon/physician fee for ear surgery in 2013 was $3,040. This figure does not include other costs, such as a facilities charge or anesthesia. Your plastic surgeon will provide you with complete information on costs and financing options at your consultation.
The total fee for ear surgery can vary considerably depending on the region of the country, the type of procedure and your specific needs as a patient. The cost of ear surgery is usually not covered by health insurance, as it is considered to be a cosmetic procedure.
Ear Surgery Consultation
If you decide that you or your child might benefit from ear surgery, the first step is to locate a qualified plastic surgeon and schedule a consultation. At the consultation, the doctor will perform an examination and note the characteristics of the ears and face. Be prepared to discuss you or your child's complete medical history, including existing health conditions, medications (prescription and non-prescription) and vitamins.
The surgeon should carefully listen to your goals for ear surgery, fully answer all of your questions and explain the different options that are available. He or she should give you the full details of the recommended procedure, including the benefits, risks, costs and recovery time. Be sure to ask to see before and after photos of the surgeon's recent otoplasty patients.
As the consultation concludes, you may wish to schedule your procedure, take some time to think or seek a second opinion. If you decide to proceed with ear surgery, your surgeon will provide you with specific instructions on how to prepare for surgery and the recovery period.
Ear Surgery Recovery
After ear surgery, most patients experience some mild pain that should subside within a few days and be easily managed with medication. A dressing applied to the ears after surgery will remain in place for a few days to prevent swelling and help the ears heal in their new position. A headband may be worn to support the ears for another week or so after the dressing is removed.
Patients are usually instructed to keep their head elevated for the first few nights to decrease pressure on the ears. Hair can be washed within a couple of days, and stitches are usually removed or dissolve in about a week.
Always follow your plastic surgeon's advice on when to resume normal activities. Most patients are up and around a few hours after surgery and can resume most non-strenuous activities within a week. Adults can usually return to work in about 5 days and children can usually return to school in about a week. Strenuous physical activity, such as vigorous exercise and contact sports, should be avoided for several weeks. Any activity during which the ear could be bent should be avoided for at least a month.