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Ear surgery, also called otoplasty, is a surgical procedure designed to improve the appearance of prominent or protruding ears. It is one of the few cosmetic surgeries that can be performed on children, since an individual’s ears typically stop growing by age five. Children and adults with severely protruding ears are often the subject of persistent teasing by their peers, resulting in psychological stress and mental anguish. Ear Surgery can eliminate this problem by pinning protruding ears back so they lie closer to the head. In fact, it is recommended that children with severely protruding ears undergo otoplasty at a very young age so the problem can be corrected before any teasing begins. Young children also tend to recover faster than do adults, making it an ideal time to perform the surgery.
Most ear surgeries are performed on an outpatient basis, although some doctors prefer to keep children overnight for extra monitoring. The surgery itself is usually only one to two hours long, depending on the complexity of the procedure. General anesthetic is recommended for young children. Older children and adults will generally undergo otoplasty with just a local anesthetic to numb the ear and the surrounding tissue. A two to three inch long incision is made in the natural crease just behind the ear to hide the incision from view. This exposes the underlying cartilage, a soft pliable tissue that gives the ear its unique shape. Depending on the extent of the protrusion, the doctor will either weaken the cartilage and bend it into its new shape or remove excess cartilage to achieve the desired results. The cartilage is secured using permanent sutures to keep it from moving back into its natural shape. Once the cartilage is secure, the incision is closed and sewn back up.
Following the surgery, patients wear a thick, tight dressing to cover and protect their ears. After a few days, a more lightweight bandage can be used. Ear surgery patients may find they experience mild to moderate discomfort during the first several days of the healing process, but this pain can be easily controlled by over the counter medications such as Tylenol or through a doctor-prescribed prescription pain reliever. Recovering patients may find it difficult to sleep initially, since many people rest their head on their ears while sleeping. A soft pillow may help to alleviate some of this discomfort. Sutures are removed approximately one week after the procedure, assuming the surgeon did not use dissolvable sutures.
Complications arising from ear surgery are rare, but like any surgery otoplasty is not completely risk free. Your surgeon will discuss potential side-effects of the procedure with you in advance of the day of your surgery so you are aware of what to expert post-surgery, and so you have realistic expectations of the procedure. Complications may include nerve damage that results in a temporary loss of sensation in the ears, scarring, infection, a localized reaction to the sutures used, or asymmetry of the ears.
Individuals interested in learning more about ear surgery and how it can improve their appearance should make an appointment with a plastic surgeon with strong track record of successful otoplasty experience.