IN THIS ISSUE
More than just hearing: ear refinement and reconstruction
Carrie was born with protruding ears. Her earliest memories of school were spent figuring how to position her hair to hide her ears. “I remember my mom saying, ‘Don’t put your hair behind your ears.’ And the entire first grade class branded me Minnie Mouse,” she says. “Although I was constantly aware of my ears and wondering if I was being stared at, I didn’t think of seeking a solution until college.” Carrie continues, “I finally decided that I could not live another 20 to 50 years being unhappy with my ears. I decided to have them corrected.”
The ear that sticks out too much may be the focus of ridicule. Children like Carrie who are subject to harsh nicknames are prime candidates for otoplasty (ear surgery); the surgery, however, can be performed from 5 years old and up.
How is the surgery performed?
After an initial consultation, a facial plastic surgeon may recommend repositioning the ear(s). He or she will thoroughly explain the pre-operative steps, the procedure, and post-operative care.
Young children usually receive general anesthesia, while adults fair well with local anesthesia and intravenous sedation. Once the patient is comfortable the physician makes incisions behind the ear, where the scars will be easily hidden in the natural crease. Depending on how much protrusion or the size of the ear, the physician will either remove excess skin and cartilage or will remove excess skin and sculpt the cartilage. The goal is to reduce the shape of the ear and reposition it closer to the head. Permanent sutures are frequently placed in the cartilage to secure its position and create natural-looking ear folds. More complex reconstructive procedures may require several steps; the average surgery lasts one to three hours.
What is the recovery like?
There will be some bruising and swelling around the ears after surgery. A soft padded bandage is placed around the head to protect the ears and hold them in place. When this is removed, the patient will be advised to wear a stretchy headband or stocking cap for a week or two, especially at night. Most people return to their daily routine within a week.
Ear surgery can offer an emotional boost in addition to its cosmetic benefits. Carrie had a baby boy that was born with protruding ears. Although concerned about the risks of surgery, deciding to have otoplasty for her son was the only wise decision. This past year her son, at the age of five, had successful otoplasty. She says, “How wonderful to know that I am saving him from years of future scorn. I highly recommend anyone in the same situation to at least seek out a professional for an opinion.”
What constitutes normal?
Proportions and harmony are the most important objectives to consider when looking at the ears. They generally lie close to the head and extend from the level of the brow to the base of the nose. As general approximations – each individual will be evaluated based on his or her total facial features – the fully grown ear protrudes approximately 2.0 centimeters at its midpoint; is between 5.5 and 6.5 centimeters long; and measures 3.0 to 4.5 centimeters in width. Earlobes may be curved and hanging or straight and attached to the side of the head. With age, earlobes become longer at the base. If the ears are not proportional to the rest of the face and detract from one’s appearance he or she may be a candidate for surgery.