Also known as otoplasty or ear reshaping
Cosmetic surgery of the ear, or otoplasty, is an aesthetic procedure that alters the size, position, or proportion of the ears. The outcome of ear reshaping surgery varies greatly depending on the changes that are desired, but these procedures generally improve self-confidence, especially in children and teenagers. If the ears stick out, ear pinning can be performed to flatten the ears against the head. If one ear is positioned higher than the other, ear repositioning can create symmetry. Large, oversized ears can be addressed alone or in conjunction with other ear issues.
When to Consider Ear Surgery
- If you were born with overly large or small ears
- If your ears are disproportionate to your head or oddly placed
- If your ears stick out prominently
- If you have suffered an injury that has negatively impacted the shape or positioning of your ears
- Ear surgery can improve the shape and proportion of your ears.
- Ear surgery can provide a boost to your self-confidence and is a low-risk procedure that can be performed on children over the age of five.
- Results generally last a lifetime with minimal fluctuations.
- Young children might have trouble dealing with aftercare and recovery.
- Ear symmetry may be affected.
- Permanent scarring or numbness of the ear or face may result.
These are the top three pros and cons to weigh when considering ear surgery. If you want to focus on what is unique to you, please consult with your aesthetic plastic surgeon.
Are you a good candidate for ear surgery?
The following are some common reasons why you may want to consider ear surgery:
- If your ears have reached their full size, which usually happens around age six. Children are common patients for this procedure.
- A set-back otoplasty, which is a procedure to reduce the prominence of ears that stick out too much, can be performed on adults as well as children.
If you are in good general health, have a positive attitude and realistic expectations, you are most likely a good candidate for this procedure.
Detailed Procedural Info
How is an ear surgery procedure performed?
In children, the cartilage is soft enough that splints can be used for contouring during surgery. This is typically done under general anesthesia. Adults, however, have harder cartilage, and the procedure must be carried out by removing or repositioning cartilage after making a small incision in the ear.
Depending on your anatomy and desired changes, your doctor may make an incision hidden inside or behind the ear. Extra cartilage or soft tissue that makes the ear “stick out” too much can be removed. If normal folds are missing from the ear, they can be re-created by shaping the cartilage with permanent sutures or scraping the cartilage to contour it. Sometimes a combination of techniques is needed to get the desired result.
- Surgery from the back of the ear shows from left to right
- Incisions are made to excise extra skin and fat
- Cartilage is recontoured and brought into position
- Stitches close incision
- Surgery seen from the front of the ear shows that reshaped cartilage restores a natural shape to the ear and allows the ear to lie flatter against the head.
- Before: Large, oversized or uneven ears can be more noticeable on children and lead to self-confidence issues.
- After: Otoplasty can be performed on children as young as five or six to correct large ears that stick out from the head.
What will my ear surgery incisions and scars be like?
The location of your incisions will depend largely on what changes you wish to make. However, you can expect the incisions to be made in inconspicuous locations, either in the back of your ear where it connects to the head, or within the inner folds of your ear.
Selecting a Surgeon
Select a surgeon you can trust
It’s important to choose your surgeon based on:
- Education, training, and certification
- Experience with ear surgery
- Your comfort level with him or her
After finding a board-certified plastic surgeon in your area who is experienced in performing ear surgery, you will need to make an office appointment to set up your consultation. Generally, because of the in-depth nature of the consultation, there is a cost associated with the initial visit.
Your initial consultation appointment
During your first consultation, you’ll discuss the details of ear surgery and review the results you’d like to see. Your surgeon will evaluate you as a candidate for ear surgery, and will evaluate the shape, size, and placement of your ears to determine what sort of changes may be possible. He or she will likely examine both of your ears, even if you think only one needs pinning or reshaping. The surgeon may also take photos of your ears and face to help further investigate the proportions of your facial features.
You should come to the consultation prepared to discuss your complete medical history. This will include information about:
- Previous surgeries
- Past and present medical conditions
- Allergies and current medications
Your treatment plan
Based on your goals, physical characteristics, and the surgeon’s years of training and experience, your surgeon will share recommendations and information with you, including:
- An approach to your surgery, including the type of procedure or combination of procedures
- The outcomes that you can anticipate
- Your financial investment in the procedure
- Associated risks and complications
- Options for anesthesia and surgery location
- What is needed to prepare for the surgery
- What you can expect to experience after surgery
- Share before-and-after photos of cases that are similar to yours and answer any questions.
Questions to ask your aesthetic plastic surgeon
For a general list of questions to ask your surgeon about his background, to find out about plastic surgery safety, and to plan your procedure. We developed these questions to help you:
- Make the most informed and intelligent decision about your procedure
- Confirm that you have the right surgeon for your procedure
- Make your initial consultation as rewarding as possible
- Understand your options, potential outcomes, and risks
It is important for you to take an active role in your surgery, so please use this list of questions as a starting point for your initial consultation.
- Am I a good candidate for ear surgery, otoplasty, ear reshaping, or ear pinning?
- Are my desired results reasonable and realistic?
- Do you have ear surgery before-and-after photos I can look at?
- Which procedure or method would work best for my ears?
- Where do you plan to make the incision, and will the scars be visible?
- What kind of anesthesia do you recommend for me?
- What will be the cost of my ear surgery?
- What will you expect of me to get the best results?
- What kind of recovery period can I expect, and when can I resume normal activities?
- What are the risks and complications associated with my procedure?
- How are complications handled?
- Will I able to change the look of my ears again after surgery?
Preparing for Your Procedure
How do I prepare for a ear surgery procedure?
Your surgeon will provide thorough preoperative instructions, answer any questions you may have, take a detailed medical history, and perform a physical exam to determine your fitness for surgery. If your doctor asks you to undergo any pre-surgery testing, be sure to schedule well in advance of your procedure.
In advance of your procedure, your surgeon will ask you to:
- Stop smoking at least six weeks before your surgery to promote better healing.
- Avoid taking aspirin, certain anti-inflammatory drugs, and some herbal medications that
can cause increased bleeding.
- Regardless of the type of surgery to be performed, hydration is very important before and after surgery for safe recovery.
- Practice good skincare. You should rinse the skin on and around your ears with warm water and use sunscreen.
Eating well, minimizing stress, and exercising frequently are important to make sure you are best prepared for your surgery. You should also plan ahead for the recovery period after your procedure by taking time off from work and ensuring that you have everything you’ll need close at hand while recovering.
What can I expect on the day of ear surgery?
On the day of surgery, you’ll be asked not to take anything by mouth, including any food. You should only drink the minimal amount of water needed to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth—anything more than this could result in the cancellation of your surgery. Wear comfortable clothing on the day of your procedure.
Your ear surgery may be performed in an accredited hospital, free-standing ambulatory facility, or office-based surgical suite.
- Medications are administered for your comfort during the surgical procedure.
- General anesthesia is commonly during your ear procedure, although local anesthesia or intravenous sedation may be desirable in some instances.
- For your safety during the surgery, various monitors will be used to check your heart, blood pressure, pulse, and the amount of oxygen circulating in your blood.
- Your surgeon will follow the surgical plan discussed with you before surgery.
- After your procedure is completed, you will be taken into a recovery area where you will continue to be closely monitored.
You will probably be permitted to go home after a short observation period unless you and your plastic surgeon have made other plans for your immediate postoperative recovery.
Aftercare and Recovery
Your surgeon will discuss how long it will be before you can return to your normal level of activity and work. After surgery, you and your caregiver will receive detailed instructions about your postsurgical care, including information about:
- Drains, if they have been placed
- Normal symptoms you will experience
- Potential signs of complication
It is vitally important that you follow all patient care instructions provided by your surgeon, and to realize that the amount of time it takes for recovery varies greatly among individuals.
Immediately after surgery
Following the procedure, you will have dressing wrapped around your ears. Soon after the procedure, your doctor will remove this heavier bandage to inspect the ears and will likely replace it with a lighter dressing. It’s essential to keep this dressing in place unless instructed to do otherwise by your doctor. Your surgeon may also prescribe medication to take during your recovery period.
Typically, you will be released from the hospital or ambulatory facility the same day as your procedure, but you must have someone drive you to and from the surgery.
Recovery time frame after ear surgery
You should have a responsible adult with you for at least the first twenty-four hours during your recovery period. For the first week of recovery, it’s important that you rest frequently, though you should still move around occasionally to keep blood flowing. To minimize discomfort, it’s recommended that you recline but keep your head elevated. Do not rest your head on the operated ear, as this can result in throbbing and general discomfort.
Your doctor will let you know when any dressing can be removed, and you may be asked to apply antibiotic ointment to the ears or perform other wound care treatment at home.
Approximately one week after your procedure, you will return to the doctor’s office. Your surgeon may remove stitches at this time, though absorbable stitches are often used, which do not require removal.
Though recovery is unique for every patient, you can expect to return to work and any light activity after one week. In two weeks, your final results will be visible, though small changes to the ears can occur for up to twelve months.
How Long Will the Results Last?
Results from ear surgery are typically life-long, barring any incidents which impact the shape or proportion of the ears.
Maintain a relationship with your aesthetic plastic surgeon
For safety, as well as the most beautiful and healthy outcome, it’s important to return to your plastic surgeon’s office for follow-up evaluation at prescribed times and whenever you notice any changes in your ears. Do not hesitate to contact your surgeon when you have any questions or concerns.
The cost of ear surgery or otoplasty varies from doctor to doctor and from one geographic area to another.
Because otoplasty is elective surgery, insurance does not cover these costs. Many surgeons offer patient financing plans to make the procedure more affordable.
Choose your surgeon based on quality, training, and experience—not cost.
Limitations and Risks
There are few risks associated with ear surgery, but as with any invasive surgery, there’s always a potential for complications. It’s important to be in regular contact with your surgeon after your procedure to ensure you are on the right track to recovery.
Some of the potential complications of all surgeries are:
- Adverse reaction to anesthesia
- Hematoma or seroma (an accumulation of blood or fluid under the skin that may require removal)
- Infection and bleeding
- Changes in sensation
- Allergic reactions
- Damage to underlying structures
- Unsatisfactory results that may necessitate additional procedures
Following your procedure, it’s normal for your ears to swell and feel tender. You may also see redness around the affected area and experience tingling in the outer ear, though this will reduce over time.
If you notice any of the following issues during your otoplasty recovery, it’s essential that you contact your surgeon immediately:
- Swelling or redness that lasts for longer than two weeks
- A fever higher than 101 degrees
- Dizziness, nausea, or incoherent behavior such as hallucinations
- Severe pain that cannot be controlled with any prescribed pain medication
- Excessive bleeding in or around your ears
- Any severe disproportion in your ears, particularly if it looks as though fluid is collecting in one ear.
The rare but potential risks associated with ear surgery are:
- Scarring, though most scars will be small, white, and unnoticeable
- Alterations in the sensitivity of the skin on or around your ears
- Bleeding or infection
- Asymmetry in the positioning of your ears due to changes that occur postoperatively
If you notice any of these issues, get in touch with your surgeon as soon as possible to discuss plans for further treatment.
You can help minimize certain risks by following the advice and instructions of your board-certified plastic surgeon, both before and after your ear surgery.