Ear Correction Surgery: Everything You Need to Know

Reviewed by Prof. Fuat Yuksel.

According to the British Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (BAOMS), approximately 1% of Brits think that their ears are too prominent. Unfortunately, many children also get ridiculed for having disproportionately large or misshapen ears, which often results in loss of self-esteem and distress. An ear correction surgery can change the size, shape, and position of the ears. Otoplasty or pinnaplasty is the surgery that essentially pins back the ears.

Since having asymmetrical or large ears can affect young children, they can undergo surgery, although there’s an age limit. Adults can also undergo this reconstructive surgery. However, before anything, you should know what an ear correction surgery can achieve for you and how.

What Is Otoplasty?

Otoplasty or pinnaplasty is a cosmetic surgery in which the surgeon adjusts the shape and size of the ears. In addition, if you have prominent ears, this surgery can move them closer to the sides of the face. The results of this treatment are permanent. It is possible for people who have misshapen ears due to physical trauma or congenital deformities to undergo this surgery.

Those having this surgery worry about how it will affect their hearing. An ear reshaping surgery will neither make better nor worsen your hearing. That’s because the surgery usually involves the back of the outer ear, where the surgeon either reshapes or removes the cartilage.

Who Is An Ideal Candidate for Ear Correction Surgery?

You can benefit from ear reshaping surgery if you’re dissatisfied with the appearance of your ears. Suitable candidates for this surgery should be in good health and have realistic expectations about the aesthetic outcomes.

A child older than 5 years can also get this surgery. Before that, the ear is still developing, and the cartilage is not firm enough. It is possible that the results don’t hold if the child is younger than 5. However, young children older than 5 are suitable candidates for the surgery since the cartilage is soft and pliable, making it easier to reshape. You can have ear pinning surgery if you have:

  • Macrotia, a condition in which a person has larger than average ears.
  • Ear asymmetry, the size of one is larger or smaller than the other.
  • Protruding ears (when they stick out more than 2cm from the sides of the face).
  • Ear malformations due to a birth defect or physical injury (burn, accidents).

What To Think About Before You Have An Ear Correction Surgery

Before undergoing this reconstructive surgery, you need to ask the clinic the following questions:

  • What are the credentials and experience of the plastic surgeon? Is/he an associate or consultant plastic surgeon?
  • What’s the specialization of the surgeon? Remember, Ear Nose & Throat (ENT) specialists can also perform this surgery.
  • How many otoplasties has the surgeon performed, and for how many years have they been performing them?
  • What complications can arise from ear reshaping surgery, and how did the surgeon deal with them in the past?
  • What are the overall satisfaction rates of patients who have had ear correction surgery?

Other than that, make sure to ask about the relevant registrations and licensing of the surgeon. Moreover, make sure that the clinic/hospital has a registration from a healthcare authority.

How Do You Prepare for An Ear Correction Surgery?

Before getting an ear correction surgery, you need to do the following:

  • Discontinue any supplements, blood thinners, or anti-inflammatory medicines as they increase the risk of bleeding during surgery.
  • You also need to avoid smoking, alcohol and recreational drugs for the same reasons.
  • Make sure that you’re wearing loose-fitting clothing before coming in.
  • Remove earrings and/or piercings.
  • Since you won’t be able to wear glasses for a few weeks after the surgery, it’s best to get some contact lenses.

How Is Otoplasty Performed?

In an ear reconstruction surgery, the surgeon first understands the needs and expectations of the patient to achieve the best possible outcome. To ensure that, the surgeon will consider the facial features of the patient. The surgery can take place using a local or general anaesthetic. Unless it’s a young child, usually a local anaesthetic gets administered.

First, the ENT/cosmetic surgeon will make incisions in the folds at the back of the ear to expose the cartilage. This will allow them to reshape or remove the ear cartilage and excess skin. Internal stitches may be needed to adjust the ear cartilage to a new shape and position. After that, s/he will suture the wounds using dissolvable or non-dissolvable stitches.

The surgeon will apply a dressing, which you’ll need to wear for at least 7-10 days after surgery. It’ll secure the ears in place and protect them. The whole operation takes around 1-2 hours. It is outpatient, so you can return to your hotel/home the same day.

In some cases, the patient may need to make an overnight stay. You’re advised against driving after an ear correction surgery because of the effects of the anaesthesia. It’s best if you have someone accompany you when you get your ear correction surgery.

What Are the Risks and Complications of Ear Correction Surgery?

Although this cosmetic operation is low-risk, you can experience the following even as the ears heal:

  • Internal stitches can come out to the surface and make the ear feel tender
  • Bleeding
  • Allergic reaction
  • Loss of sensation (numbness can last for a few weeks), rarely permanent
  • Re-protrusion of the ear after surgery
  • Infection of the cartilage

You may also feel itchy during the recovery process but avoid the urge to scratch your ears. It can pull out the stitches.

Make sure that you keep the surgical area dry and clean to reduce the risk of infection. Make sure to take any antibiotics or painkillers as prescribed by the plastic surgeon. Soon after the surgery, it’s better to not wear any earrings or other earpieces for a week or two because of the swelling, bruising, and numbness.

How Long Do Otoplasty Scars Take To Heal?

The surgery will not leave you with permanent scars. Since the incisions are made in the inner creases of the ear and are very small in size, they’re not that visible. If the incisions are only at the back, they remain hidden behind the ear.

However, it will also fade in 6-12 months and match your natural skin tone. You can use bio-oil, medical-grade silicone, vitamin C or E, and other products that can help fade scarring.

What To Expect During the Aftercare Process

There are some common questions that people ask following their ear correction surgery. They are as follows:

How Long to Wear Headband After Otoplasty?

After the surgeon removes the dressing, you may need to wear a headband. It will provide support to your ears and protect them, especially when you’re sleeping. You may need to wear the headband for 4-8 weeks after otoplasty. Wear it for as long as instructed by your surgeon.

When Can I Sleep On My Side After Otoplasty?

It’s best if you don’t sleep on your sides for a couple of weeks as it can tug at the ears and put pressure on them. You should consider sleeping on a recliner or propping your head on some pillows as it can help with the swelling.

What Should I Wear After Otoplasty?

To make sure that you don’t put any inadvertent pressure on your ears, make sure that you wear shirts with loose necks, button-ups/downs, or stretchable fabric so that it goes down easily.

How Long After Otoplasty Can You Swim?

You cannot go swimming for at least a month after the surgery. Also, because your ears are still healing, you should be careful when moving around so as not to hit your ears anywhere.

Can You Play Sports After Otoplasty?

Your plastic surgeon will also advise you against contact sports for at least 3 months after the ear correction surgery. You also need to avoid strenuous activity, including exercise, for a few weeks after the operation.

How Long Does It Take To Recover From Otoplasty?

It’s okay for children to go back to school 1-2 weeks after surgery. However, you may have to ask them to avoid the playground and certain activities for a while after the surgery. This is important as how well they take care of their ears during the recovery will determine the final outcome of the surgery.

As far as going back to work is concerned, you should discuss this with your doctor. That’s because it can depend on the nature of your work. It’s best if you rest for some time after the surgery.

Concluding Remarks

Many people develop low self-esteem or feel their facial features are out of balance if their ears are too large, asymmetrical, or malformed. If this is the case, you can get an otoplasty or pinnaplasty, where the surgeon will remove excess cartilage and skin and adjust the cartilage so that your ear lies closer to your face. The surgery needs small stitches. Usually, the incisions are at the back of the ear so they will remain hidden. In any case, the scarring will go away with care and time.

You have to be very careful during the healing process. The results from the surgery are immediate. However, you have to wear a dressing and headband and avoid certain things to encourage healing. Usually, otoplasty is not available on the NHS, and self-pay surgery prices can vary depending on the location, the surgeon, surgical technique, and needs of the patient. If you’re thinking of having the surgery, you should consult a board-certified plastic surgeon.

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