Otoplasty, also known as ear pinning, is a surgical procedure which aims to correct the shape of protruded ears in both children and adults.
Normally, this procedure can be performed in early childhood when your child is around 8 years old. The ear is almost fully formed at that stage and the cartilage thickness and consistency is adequate.
It is also recommended to wait until your child is mature enough to understand the treatment, and most importantly, until they are interested in having treatment. Otoplasty surgery can prevent the experience of being bullied in school and being teased about your child’s ear shape by their peers.
However, this procedure is not only for children. At some point in their life, many young teenagers and adults may find that they are unhappy with their ears being too prominent, and that they would like to correct their ear shape.
What happens during otoplasty surgery?
Surgery is normally performed under a general anaesthetic but can also be done under local anaesthetic and sedation in adults. It takes 1.5 – 3 hours, depending on if it is for one or both ears. Your surgeon will make small incisions on the back of your ear to expose, or in some cases remove, the cartilage. Then, he will fold the cartilage and stitch the ear back. As a result of this surgery, your ear will be placed closer towards your head which will make your face look more symmetrical and improve your facial harmony.
There are scars resulting from this procedure, however, they generally are hidden behind the ear. There is also bruising and swelling that will eventually subside over a few weeks.
Otoplasty, as with any other type of major surgery, has risks, including the risk of bleeding, infection and an adverse reaction to anaesthesia.
Other risks associated with otoplasty include:
- Scarring. While scars are permanent, they\’ll likely be hidden behind your ears. Scars at the front of the ear are only present if a large reduction of the concha is required.
- Asymmetry. This could occur as a result of surgery or changes during the healing process. Also, surgery might not successfully correct preexisting asymmetry.
- Changes in skin sensation. During otoplasty, the repositioning of your ears can temporarily cause numbness or altered sensation. Rarely, changes are permanent.
- Allergic reaction. It\’s possible to have an allergic reaction to the surgical tape or other materials and medications used during or after the procedure.
- Problems with stitches. Stitches used to secure the ear\’s new shape might work their way to the surface of the skin and need to be removed. This can cause inflammation or infection of the affected skin. As a result, you might need additional surgery.
- Overcorrection. Otoplasty can create unnatural contours that make ears appear to be pinned back.
- Recurrence. This could occur gradually as a result of cartilage return to its original shape, especially seen in thick and strong cartilage. It can also appear suddenly after trauma during early stages of recovery and before complete healing.
Otoplasty Recovery Tips
Patients will need to take time off work or school for 7 days to allow the ears to recover and heal. You can rest at home as there is no need to stay at the hospital.
After otoplasty, your ears will be covered in bandages for protection and support. You will likely feel some discomfort and itching. Take pain medication as recommended by your doctor. If you take pain medication and your discomfort increases, contact your doctor immediately, especially if the the bandages feel tight due to swelling.
To keep pressure off your ears, avoid sleeping on your side. Also try not to rub or place excessive force on the incisions. Consider wearing button-down shirts or shirts with loose fitting collars.
Your surgeon will advise you to wear the bandage for the first week after surgery. Once the bandage has been removed, you will be asked to wear a headband for protection and support during your recovery for 5 more weeks.
Most commonly stitches dissolve on their own in two to three weeks. Occasionally, some stitches must be removed in the doctor\’s office in the weeks after the procedure.
You should be able to wash your hair and ears after the bandages are removed and physical activity can be gradually resumed after two weeks. Contact sports should be avoided for 6 weeks.
Am I the right candidate for otoplasty?
While this procedure is suitable for persons of different age groups, it’s important to ensure that you are in good health and have realistic expectations about what the procedure will involve. Having a discussion with your plastic surgeon before deciding whether the procedure is right for you is very important. You can always contact our practice if you have any questions about otoplasty, or if you want to make an appointment.
Dr Rodrigo is a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon in Melbourne. He is interested in Aesthetic Surgery, Rhinoplasty and Facial Surgery.