Once considered a surgery only for remedying protruding ears, otoplasty can now address a whole host of cosmetic ear issues. From reconstruction after an accident to changing the size and shape of the ear, otoplasty procedures are common in adults and children as young as six years old.
What is Otoplasty (Ear Pinning Surgery)?
Otoplasty is a procedure that alters the structure of the outer ear. Otoplasty is most often cosmetic. The most common form of otoplasty is known as ear pinning. Ear pinning is done to flatten protruding ears so they do not have as pronounced an appearance.
Often done to spare someone the teasing and bullying that can result from protruding ears, otoplasty surgery is one of the few cosmetic procedures historically available to young children.
Types of Otoplasty
Ear pinning surgery to flatten protruding ears is only one type of otoplasty. Surgeons also reshape ears that are too large or small, reconstruct damaged ears, and correct congenital ear abnormalities.
Types of otoplasty include:
- Ear augmentation – This is a procedure that can be used to improve the size of the outer ear. In most cases, people who have small ears or who haven’t completely developed regular-sized ears may want to have this procedure.
- Ear pinning – This procedure involves drawing the ears back towards the head. It’s performed on individuals whose ears seem to stick out from the sides of their heads.
- Ear reduction – Macrotia is a condition where the size of your ears is larger than normal. People who suffer from macrotia may choose elective ear reduction surgery. This may also include earlobe reduction
Otoplasty can be performed on adults of almost any age.
How is an Ear Pinning Surgery Procedure Performed?
The consultation starts with a thorough physical examination of the ears. The surgeon will evaluate the position of the ears and recommend a procedure. Surgery is generally done on both ears regardless of differences in protrusion to ensure symmetry.
The procedure itself can be done with a local, sedation, or general anesthetic. Surgeons usually recommend a general anesthetic for children. Otoplasty Ear surgery usually takes about two hours and can be done as an outpatient procedure or in the hospital.
Sometimes ear pinning can be accomplished with a few permanent sutures that bring the ears closer to the head. Other options involve trimming and shaping the ear cartilage before suturing to achieve the optimal shape and position.
Any scars are normally hidden behind the ear or within ear folds.
How to Prepare For an Otoplasty
Otoplasty procedures require both physical and emotional preparation. Your surgeon will discuss the details of the procedure, including any risks. They will also do a complete examination of your (or your child’s) ears to determine the best course of action.
Your doctor will give you instructions about any foods or medicines to avoid. They will also tell you that smoking can hinder healing and request that you refrain before and after your otoplasty.
Preparing emotionally is important for any cosmetic procedure. It is crucial for you or your child to have realistic expectations for the results. Otoplasty that is done as a result of bullying should be accompanied by additional support for your child both before and after the procedure.
The Otoplasty Surgery Recovery Process
You will have soft bandages on your ears for several days. The coverings protect the surgical area and support your ears. Your doctor will tell you when you stop using the coverings.
Your ears are likely to be red and swollen right after otoplasty surgery. The redness and swelling should improve steadily as you recover. If they do not, or if they worsen, it’s important to call your doctor.
You’re likely to feel some discomfort as your otoplasty heals. This is normal and your doctor will help you figure out how to manage any post-procedure pain. Another common sensation is itching. Be careful not to scratch or rub your ears.
You’ll be advised not to sleep on your side or put pressure on your ears for a week or more. After your bandages are removed, you’ll wear a headband at night for several weeks to prevent irritation to the area while you sleep and maintain the position of your ears.
Recovery Time Frame after Ear Pinning Surgery
It is important to check with your doctor to find out how soon they recommend resuming regular activities. Though ear pinning surgery is not overly invasive, your ears need time to heal.
There will be different recommendations based on your age and the activities you want to resume. The timeframe for an adult going back to work may be different than for a child going back to school.
Most people find that full healing takes about six weeks. You’ll be able to do many of your normal activities before the end of that time, but they need to be added gradually.
Otoplasty Recovery Timeline and What to Expect
Day of Surgery
- Return home from the hospital or surgical center, you will need someone to drive you
- Rest in bed with head elevated
- Recover from anesthetic
- Begin antibiotics or pain medication prescribed by your doctor
First Week after Surgery
- Ears will be a little red and swollen
- Do not sleep on your side
- Your doctor may check bandages and healing
- Continue any prescribed medications
- Leave bandages in place, or use a headband to hold ears in position
- Headband used to protect ears, but using it less
- Continued improvement of redness and swelling
- Carefully clean the area as instructed
- Stitches removed if necessary
- Topical ointments may be prescribed
- Return to work or school after about a week and resume routine activities slowly
- Carefully follow all after-care instructions
Additional Read: Is Cosmetic Ear Reshaping, Otoplasty, Right for You?
Benefits of Otoplasty
Otoplasty surgery has tremendous psychological and physical benefits. Some of the many benefits of otoplasty include:
- Prominent Ear Correction – For most people, their outer ear should be positioned at an angle of approximately 15 degrees. If this angle exceeds 25 degrees, their ears may appear to stick out from their heads. Otoplasty performed by a qualified surgeon should result in an improved facial appearance.
- Boost in Self-Confidence – There is a direct link between having an ear correction surgery and an increase in self-confidence. Children who have had surgery tend to feel more confident in their appearance and are less likely to be bullied.
- Natural and Balanced Appearance – Otoplasty works by altering the shape of abnormally small or large ears to create a more balanced look. If the ears appear folded or cupped, this surgery helps to reshape the ears into a more natural shape.
- Permanent Results – A typical otoplasty procedure only requires about two hours to complete. Once the bandages are removed, the results of the treatment are permanent.
- Minimal Risks – The risks associated with having an ear pinning or correction surgery are minimal, and most patients will be back on their feet within two weeks.
Risks and Limitations of Ear Pinning Surgery
All surgeries come with some risks. Otoplasty is considered very safe, but there are some risks specific to the procedure.
You may experience a reaction to the anesthetic used. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have had difficulties with anesthesia in the past. Infection is also a risk as an otoplasty heals, so be sure to follow all instructions for wound care.
Otoplasty ear surgery also carries some risk of scarring, although the scars are usually hidden behind the ears. You might experience a change or reduction in sensation around the area of the surgery. Sensation usually returns to normal over a few months but can be permanent in some cases.
Other complications such as asymmetry or problems with stitches are unusual but can occur. Revision surgery may be needed.
The limitations of ear pinning surgery are more difficult to quantify. While generally a very effective procedure, otoplasty itself may not be sufficient to rectify emotional trauma. If you or your child has suffered bullying before an otoplasty, additional support is recommended after the procedure.
Choose a Qualified Surgeon
Otoplasty, or ear pinning surgery, is a highly effective, generally safe procedure that can be performed on patients as young as six years old. The primary goal is to flatten protruding ears that can become a source of insecurity.
It’s vital to choose a qualified surgeon before you or your child undergoes an otoplasty. You should feel comfortable asking any questions about the procedure or recovery. Never be afraid to voice concerns or doubts in a consultation.
If you are a parent who is considering otoplasty, make sure you choose a surgeon who can explain the procedure in easy-to-understand language and provide adequate reassurance.
Dr. Sidle is a board-certified facial plastic surgeon with expertise in surgery of the face and neck. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Sidle today and see if otoplasty is right for you or your child.