Otoplasty Surgery: 9 Things to Know Before Getting Your Ears Pinned or Reshaped
In the glamorous, media-driven world of plastic surgery, ears don’t get much attention. As long as there’s two, most people don’t give them a second thought. But a few millimeters is all the difference it takes between ears that blend in and those that stick out. Creative hairstyles and hats will only go so far – for a more permanent solution, many people will turn to surgery.
“Two hours can be life-changing,” says Dr. Melissa Doft, a board certified plastic surgeon and assistant professor of surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College who specializes in reconstructive ear surgery. “Kids can do better in school, feel better socially, wear their hair in ponytails, and try out for sports. It really improves self confidence.”
Ear surgery – also known as otoplasty – accounted for 22,714 procedures performed by board certified plastic surgeons in the United States last year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. To put that in perspective, for every person who gets their ears pinned back, 10 women undergo breast augmentation.
The majority of patients electing to undergo this procedure are children, notes Dr. Doft, but teenagers and adults also opt later in life for ears that conform to normal projection standards. Although it’s a quick and relatively easy augmentation, it’s still real surgery with risks and potential side effects.
If you’re thinking about getting your ears done, keep these points in mind:
You’re never too old for otoplasty
The ideal time for otoplasty is when a child is in kindergarten, or around the age of 5 years old, says Dr. Doft. By then, the child’s ear is 85% developed and other children haven’t begun to notice physical differences that result in teasing, which generally happens in the second and third grade of elementary school. If parents miss that window, children often end up pursuing this procedure between the ages of 12 and 16 years old. She also often treats young adults entering the workforce. These are the people whose parents weren’t able or willing to pay for this elective surgery, and who can now afford otoplasty themselves.
It won’t hurt that much
The surgery is always performed under general anesthesia for pediatric patients, but some candidates get away with local anesthesia only, depending on the severity of the issue. Recovery is not that painful, says Dr. Doft – most of her pediatric patients are comfortable with Tylenol or Motrin. However, adults often require prescription pain medication for the first few days and a few days off from work.
Your ears will never be perfectly identical
No two ears are made exactly the same. This means that while the goal of the surgery is to make both ears similar to each other in size and projection, the contours will always be different and achieving perfect symmetry is impossible.
Recovery takes a couple months
Different surgeons have varying protocols, but generally speaking, patients can expect to wear a bandage over their ears for three to five days after surgery. After the dressings come off, they will need to wear a headband day and night for one month, and only at night for another month.
It uses permanent sutures that can come undone
Otoplasty has a relatively high recurrence rate of up to 20 percent. The stitches that doctors use to pin back ears are permanent sutures rather than dissolving. This means that if the stitches come undone, ears may protrude or require a revision to fine tune the angle. The good news is that revisions are commonly performed in the doctor’s office under local anesthesia.
You may want to quit contact sports after it
Basketball, wrestling, soccer or any sport where you might get elbowed in the head poses a risk for undoing the stitches that pin back the ears. If quitting these sports isn’t an option, you’ll need to be a little more careful and wear a headband while playing.
Your ear surgery probably won’t be covered by insurance
Although many deformities requiring surgical correction are covered by insurance, most insurance companies don’t consider otoplasty one of them because it doesn’t affect your ability to hear. “We’ve written a lot of letters to insurance, but have had no luck,” says Dr. Doft.
Ear rejuvenation is becoming a thing
As you age, ear tissue thins and can look deflated. Not only does this change age your appearance, but it can affect women’s ability to wear heavy earrings. Dermal fillers can be injected to plump the earlobe to give it a better shape, and the procedure also helps heavy earrings for pierced ears stay in their correct position. Another by-product of aging is that earlobes get longer. To fix droopy lobes, a plastic surgeon can excise a portion of the lobe to make it smaller, giving it a more youthful shape.
It’s also an art.
“Beauty is everywhere.”
Otoplasty is considered a niche surgery, and there aren’t that many plastic surgeons that choose to specialize in ear anatomy. Although an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor may do this procedure and be very good at it, it’s really a cosmetic procedure, says Dr. Doft. “You really want to go to somebody who has cosmetic training, and that’s usually a plastic surgeon,” she explains. “It’s not hard to do an OK job, but it’s challenging to do a great job because every millimeter really matters.”
Her advice to prospective patients: if you’re considering getting your ear done, you should search for a doctor that does a lot of them.
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