What is Otoplasty?
Otoplasty (also called ear pinning surgery) is a surgical procedure to change the size, shape, or position of the ears. This surgery is most commonly performed to set back ears that sit out too far from the side of the head - called prominent ears. While ears are not typically a major focal point of the face, long-term dissatisfaction about the appearance of ears can lower people’s self esteem and heighten their self-consciousness.
Ears can have prominence due to several problems. The most common causes of ear prominence include:
- An enlargement of the concha of the ear, that pushes the ear out from the skull, and
- A lack of folding along the antihelix, which results in the upper portion of the ear to strangely tilt out from the side of the head.
- Otoplasty can be done at any age after the ears have reached their full size, usually after age 5. After years of teasing or feeling self-conscious, many adults also have this surgical ear pinning procedure.
Who is Otoplasty for?
Children and adults who have Otoplasty surgery feel that their ears protrude in a significant manner. Ear pinning surgery places ears in a position that is more harmonious and in balance with your face.
The benefits of Otoplasty surgery include:
- A relatively safe surgical procedure with little risk involved
- Improved self confidence and self esteem
- Newfound freedom in wearing your hair
- Otoplasty surgery won't alter your ability to hear or change the location of your ears. It is important to note that to optimize symmetry, Otoplasty is typically done on both ears.
You may consider Otoplasty surgery if:
- Your ears are large in proportion to your head
- Your ear or ears stick out too far from your head
- You're dissatisfied with a previous ear surgery
How is Otoplasty surgery performed?
A specialist Cosmetic Surgeon should perform an Otoplasty. The surgery is usually performed under general anaesthetic as day surgery in hospital. Most procedures take between 1-2 hours. The specific surgical technique that your Cosmetic Surgeon uses will depend on the specific factors associated with your ears.
Because asymmetry is common and ear shape is variable, technically, Otoplasty surgery requires a great attention to detail by the Surgeon. Some of these procedures can be complex, especially if part of an ear is missing or didn’t form properly.
Most Otoplasty operations make an incision on the back of the ear, through which the cartilage is accessed. The cartilage is scored to weaken it, sometimes pieces of it are removed, or it is stitched (sutured) into a new shape. Then the incision is closed with dissolving stitches. In some cases, to correct large or prominent ears, a small amount of cartilage is removed from the bowl of the ear. This is known as ‘conchal fossa reduction’ and moves the entire ear to sit closer towards the head.
Usually, a bulky dressing is placed around the ear to put light pressure on it. This dressing minimises the risk of bleeding occurring under the skin, and it helps hold the shape of the new ear. It also pads the ear, which makes it more comfortable for the patient just after surgery. Bruising and swelling discomfort can be controlled with oral pain medication. This will subside over a few weeks.
Key facts about Otoplasty surgery
- Ear surgery is also called Otoplasty or ear pinning. This external ear surgery is usually performed to reduce ear prominence by moving them closer to the head.
- Otoplasty can be done at any age after the ears have reached their full size, usually after age 5.
- After surgery, a padded dressing and head bandage is used. Most patients will need to wear the dressing and head bandage for at least a week.
- Post-surgery, the treated area will be bruised and swollen. You will see changes to the areas straight away but the bruising and swelling can take weeks to resolve.
- Depending on the size of the surgery, it is best to take one week off work. Children will need to take 2 weeks off school, with 4 weeks off contact sports.
What are the risks and complications of Otoplasty surgery?
As with any surgical procedure, there are potential risks and complications. These include:
- Anaesthetic problems
- Bruising, bleeding, hematoma formation
- Deep Vein thrombosis
The risks and complications specific to Otoplasty include:
- Asymmetrical ears: This could occur as a result of changes during the healing process. It is important to note that surgery might not successfully correct pre-existing asymmetry.
- Changes in skin sensation: During Otoplasty, the repositioning of your ears can temporarily affect skin sensation in the area. This altered sensation can occur around the incision site.
- Fluid accumulation in the inner ear: Leading to loss of balance and nausea.
- Overcorrection: Otoplasty can create unnatural contours that make ears appear to be pinned back.
- Problems with stitches: The dissolvable stitches used to secure your ear's new shape may work their way to the surface of the skin and have to be removed. This can cause inflammation of the affected skin.
- Re-protrusion of one or both of the ears
- Scarring: Your scars will be permanent but will be hidden within the creases of your ears or behind your ears.
What is recovery like after Otoplasty surgery?
Swelling and bruising is normal following Otoplasty surgery. This will take a few weeks to resolve. To protect your ears during early recovery, you will be advised to wear a wide headband over your ears when you sleep. It is also important to avoid strenuous exercise and heavy lifting for at least 3 to 4 weeks.
It is important to note that there will always be some throbbing pain in the ears after ear pinning surgery. This is similar to an infected or traumatised finger. To minimise pain and help reduce swelling, it is important to lie with your head elevated or propped up in bed with at least three pillows so your the head is higher than your chest. Any discomfort you experience after Otoplasty surgery is usually treated with simple pain medications.
The scars you have after Otoplasty surgery will generally be hidden in the crease where your ear is attached to your scalp (the post-auricular sulcus area). This scarring reduces over several weeks and are typically minimal to nearly invisible for many patients.
Where to find the best Otoplasty Cosmetic Surgeons in Australia
It’s important to consider your options carefully and have realistic expectations about the results of ear pinning (Otoplasty) surgery. During the first visit to your Cosmetic Surgeon they will:
- Review your medical history, including your current and past medical conditions, particularly any ear infections,
- The risk and complications that can occur,
- Perform a physical examination, including examining your ear size, shape and symmetry, and
- Discuss your expectations of surgery, including what you hope to look like after the procedure.
We suggest you make a shortlist and consult with a few Cosmetic Surgeons. You can find the best Otoplasty Cosmetic Surgeons in Australia here.
Important to know
So you can make an informed decision, your elected Cosmetic Surgeon will discuss the possible risks associated with Otoplasty. Although the majority of patients do not experience these complications, it’s important to understand how they can be managed in the event that they occur.