In both children and adults, ear surgery can change the shape and position of the ears. Through techniques which have stood the test of time, ear surgery, referred to as otoplasty, provides a safe, predictable solution to a common problem.
Andrew Barnett, MD
What is the right age to have the surgery?
Surgery can be performed at any time after the age of five or six years. Ears grow quite quickly compared to the rest of the body, so by age six, the ears are almost 90% of their final size. Surgery can be helpful in preventing the teasing that children with prominent ears are subjected to at school. Adolescents frequently have surgery in their teens when changing hairstyles prevent them from hiding prominent ears, and adults often elect to have the surgery they’ve always wanted. Ears have a second growth spurt after the age of fifty, and ear reduction is frequently requested by older patients.
How is otoplasty performed?
Through incisions located behind or inside the ear, small instruments are placed under the skin to reshape and refine the cartilages of the ear. At times, the cartilages are weakened, producing a fold which is missing in many prominent ears. At other times, when there is too much cartilage, a small amount of cartilage is removed. Sutures are then placed to form the ear shape, and fix its position.
Are the sutures all that holds the ear in position?
Initially, yes. During the healing phase, you must be very careful not to pull on the ear, as this can break the sutures which can result in a loss of correction. After a period of time, the ears heal in the new position, and are then resistant to the normal forces of wear and tear!
How can I protect my ears during the healing phase?
For a few days after surgery, a turban-like bandage protects the ears. When that is removed, you wear a special strap at night to prevent you from inadvertently injuring the ears while asleep. You wear this for six weeks after surgery.
What about recovery time?
While you’ll be up and about a few hours after surgery, the turban bandage will not be removed for one to three days following surgery. At that time, you can shower, shampoo, and return to activities which are not physically strenuous. Most patients return to school or work within three to five days of surgery. Full physical activity is permitted in two weeks, except for those activities which can injure the ear, such as wrestling.
Is there pain during and after the surgery?
As with all surgery, anesthetic is used during the operation. This is generally local anesthesia. After the surgery, while you’ll feel some tightness from the bandage, patients generally report very little pain. Medication for discomfort will of course be available, but most patients require very little.
What areas of the ear can be changed?
Changes can be made in the size and prominence of the ear, as well as reduction in the size and shape of the earlobes. Some patients who are born with poorly shaped or missing parts of the ear can also be helped, but this requires special techniques not discussed in this information sheet.
Does insurance pay for ear surgery?
In the past, yes. Now, managed care has changed the formula that insurance companies use to determine which procedures are covered, and it is much less common to receive reimbursement for the procedure. Our office can assist you in determining if the surgery is covered, and in filing a claim.
Are there risks to otoplasty surgery?
While all surgery has risks, and otoplasty is no exception, problems are infrequent. Bleeding, infection, and scarring may occur. Irregularities or slight differences between the ears from the surgery or your body’s healing process may appear. Short term tenderness is expected. Return of the prominence may occur if the ears are injured following surgery, requiring re-operation. Risks of anesthesia, while present, are quite minimal. This information is provided not to frighten you but to help you make an informed decision. Otoplasty has proven to be a safe, predictable, and popular procedure.
Should I have the operation?
That’s a question only you can answer. At your consultation, ask questions and explain your desires and expectations. We’ll work together to make the decision that’s right for you.