Ears: Those wonderful features on the sides of head that allow you to hear the world around you.
For most of us, we probably hear few comments about our ears. But for others, their ears may be the subject of unnecessary conversation. No one wants to be teased about their appearance, but unfortunately big ears are a regular target. It’s estimated that five percent of the population has ears that stick out beyond a normal range.
Many kids are born with cute little ears that stick out. And, when kids are little, those pronounced ears just add to their overall cuteness. As children grow, the vast majority find their ears slowly become less prominent as their head and features settle into their adult position. However, sometimes ears don’t shift into position or an injury may cause the ears to stick out even more.
Around 20,000 people a year in the US undergo otoplasty, a surgical procedure to adjust or reform the ears. The procedure itself can address a variety of issues either coming from the natural position or size of the person’s ears, medical conditions creating ear deformities, or injuries resulting in disfiguration. Before considering surgery for these types of conditions, it’s best to wait until the patient’s ears are fully grown or, if issues are due to an injury, fully healed. Most surgeons recommend waiting until a child is at least 6 years old, if not older, prior to considering surgery.
If surgery is the right option, the surgeon will meet with the patient ahead of time and plan their surgical procedure. The surgeon will provide the patient (and his/her parents, if the patient is a child) with an overview of what incisions will be needed and what to expect for recovery.
Most times, otoplasty can be performed as an outpatient surgery. The patient is given anesthesia and incisions are made by the surgeon based on the exact needs of the patient’s condition. For many surgeries, the incisions are made behind the ears where the ears can be adjusted but the scars can be easily hid. If incisions are needed in the front of the ears, many surgeons will try to place the incisions inside the folds of the ears to keep the visible scars as limited as possible. Permanent internal sutures are typically used to hold the cartilage in place after the necessary adjustments are made. The surgeon then uses stitches to close the incisions, again focusing on making the stitches as discrete as possible.
Recovery from otoplasty is fairly consistent with other facial plastic surgeries. The patient can expect itching as the stitches heal, and will need to keep the incisions clean and untouched as much as possible. Two things that can be especially challenging after otoplasty are sleeping – if the patient tends to sleep on his/her sides – or washing his/her hair the first few days. In both situations, a patient can discuss the location of the specific incisions for their surgery and ask for recommendations for how best to handle the days that follow surgery.