Ear Surgery (Otoplasty)

Ear surgery (technically termed otoplasty) is usually performed to set prominent ears back closer to the head or to reduce the size of large ears.

Most often the operation is performed on children between the ages of four and fourteen. Ears are almost fully grown by age four, and the earlier the child undergoes surgery the less teasing and ridicule he or she will have to endure. No additional risks associated with ear surgery on an older patient.

Are you a candidate?

Besides protruding ears, a variety of other ear conditions can be corrected with surgery. These include “lop ear,” when the tip seems to fold down and forward; “cupped ear,” which is usually a very small ear; and “shell ear,” when the curve in the outer rim and the natural folds and creases are missing. Surgery can also improve large or stretched earlobes or lobes with large creases and wrinkles.

What is the procedure?

Ear surgery usually takes about two to three hours. The technique will depend on the condition being treated. With one of the more common techniques, a small incision is made in the back of the ear to expose the ear cartilage. The cartilage is then sculpted and bent back toward the head. Non-removable stitches may be used to help maintain the new shape. Occasionally, a larger piece of cartilage is removed to provide a more natural-looking fold when the surgery is complete. Another technique involves a similar incision in the back of the ear. Skin is removed and stitches are used to fold the cartilage back on itself to reshape the ear without removing cartilage.

What will the recovery period be like after surgery?

Most patients are up and around within a few hours of surgery. Your head will be wrapped in a bulky bandage immediately following surgery to promote the best molding and healing. The ears may throb or ache a little for a few days, but this can be relieved by medication.

Within a few days, the bulky bandages will be replaced by a lighter head dressing similar to a headband. Be sure to wear this dressing as directed, especially at night.

Stitches are usually removed, or will dissolve, in about a week. Any activity in which the ear might be bent should be avoided for a month or longer. Most adults can go back to work approximately five days after surgery. Children can go back to school after approximately seven days but they must be careful during playground activity. You may want to ask your child’s teacher to keep a close eye on the child for a few weeks.

Will incisions be visible?

In most cases, ear surgery will leave a faint scar in the back of the ear that will fade with time. Even when only one ear appears to protrude, surgery is usually performed on both ears for a better balance.

What are the risks of Otoplasty?

Complications from otoplasty are infrequent and usually minor. A small percentage of patients may develop a blood clot on the ear. It may dissolve naturally or can be drawn out with a needle. Occasionally, patients develop an infection in the cartilage, which can cause scar tissue to form. Such infections are usually treated with antibiotics; rarely, surgery may be required to drain the infected area.

How do you prepare for surgery?

You will receive specific instructions on how to prepare for surgery, including guidelines on eating and drinking and taking or avoiding certain vitamins and medications. Carefully following these instructions will help you or your child’s surgery go more smoothly. For patients who smoke, it is especially important to stop at least two weeks before surgery.

Where is the procedure performed?

Ear surgery is usually performed as an outpatient procedure in a hospital, a doctor’s office-based surgical facility, or a freestanding surgery center.

Your new look

Most patients, young and old, are thrilled with the results of ear surgery. But keep in mind, the goal is improvement, not perfection. Do not expect both ears to match perfectly – perfect symmetry is both unlikely and unnatural in ears.