Also known as otoplasty or ear reshaping
Cosmetic surgery of the ear, or otoplasty, is an aesthetic procedure that alters the size, position, or proportion of the ears. The outcome of ear reshaping surgery varies greatly depending on the changes that are desired, but these procedures generally improve self-confidence, especially in children and teenagers. If the ears stick out, ear pinning can be performed to flatten the ears against the head. If one ear is positioned higher than the other, ear repositioning can create symmetry. Large, oversized ears can be addressed alone or in conjunction with other ear issues.
These are the top three pros and cons to weigh when considering ear surgery. If you want to focus on what is unique to you, please consult with your aesthetic plastic surgeon.
Are you a good candidate for ear surgery?
The following are some common reasons why you may want to consider ear surgery:
If you are in good general health, have a positive attitude and realistic expectations, you are most likely a good candidate for this procedure.
In children, the cartilage is soft enough that splints can be used for contouring during surgery. This is typically done under general anesthesia. Adults, however, have harder cartilage, and the procedure must be carried out by removing or repositioning cartilage after making a small incision in the ear.
Depending on your anatomy and desired changes, your doctor may make an incision hidden inside or behind the ear. Extra cartilage or soft tissue that makes the ear "stick out" too much can be removed. If normal folds are missing from the ear, they can be re-created by shaping the cartilage with permanent sutures or scraping the cartilage to contour it. Sometimes a combination of techniques is needed to get the desired result.
The location of your incisions will depend largely on what changes you wish to make. However, you can expect the incisions to be made in inconspicuous locations, either in the back of your ear where it connects to the head, or within the inner folds of your ear.
It’s important to choose your surgeon based on:
Members of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery are experienced and qualified to perform your aesthetic procedure. Learn how to select a surgeon.
After finding a board-certified plastic surgeon in your area who is experienced in performing ear surgery, you will need to make an office appointment to set up your consultation. Generally, because of the in-depth nature of the consultation, there is a cost associated with the initial visit.
During your first consultation, you’ll discuss the details of ear surgery and review the results you’d like to see. Your surgeon will evaluate you as a candidate for ear surgery, and will evaluate the shape, size, and placement of your ears to determine what sort of changes may be possible. He or she will likely examine both of your ears, even if you think only one needs pinning or reshaping. The surgeon may also take photos of your ears and face to help further investigate the proportions of your facial features. Alternative and additional treatments may also be considered (see related procedures).
Based on your goals, physical characteristics, and the surgeon’s years of training and experience, your surgeon will share recommendations and information with you, including:
For a general list of questions to ask your surgeon about his background, to find out about plastic surgery safety, and to plan your procedure, visit the Planning Toolkit.
We developed these questions to help you:
It is important for you to take an active role in your surgery, so please use this list of questions as a starting point for your initial consultation.
Your surgeon will provide thorough preoperative instructions, answer any questions you may have, take a detailed medical history, and perform a physical exam to determine your fitness for surgery. If your doctor asks you to undergo any pre-surgery testing, be sure to schedule well in advance of your procedure.
In advance of your procedure, your surgeon will ask you to:
Eating well, minimizing stress, and exercising frequently are important to make sure you are best prepared for your surgery. You should also plan ahead for the recovery period after your procedure by taking time off from work and ensuring that you have everything you’ll need close at hand while recovering.
What can I expect on the day of ear surgery?
On the day of surgery, you’ll be asked not to take anything by mouth, including any food. You should only drink the minimal amount of water needed to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth—anything more than this could result in the cancellation of your surgery. Wear comfortable clothing on the day of your procedure.
Your ear surgery may be performed in an accredited hospital, free-standing ambulatory facility, or office-based surgical suite.
Your surgeon will discuss how long it will be before you can return to your normal level of activity and work. After surgery, you and your caregiver will receive detailed instructions about your postsurgical care, including information about:
It is vitally important that you follow all patient care instructions provided by your surgeon, and to realize that the amount of time it takes for recovery varies greatly among individuals.
See options for short-term recovery locations in Aftercare and Recovery (Planning Toolkit).
Immediately after surgery
Following the procedure, you will have dressing wrapped around your ears. Soon after the procedure, your doctor will remove this heavier bandage to inspect the ears, and will likely replace it with a lighter dressing. It’s essential to keep this dressing in place unless instructed to do otherwise by your doctor. Your surgeon may also prescribe medication to take during your recovery period.
Typically, you will be released from the hospital or ambulatory facility the same day as your procedure, but you must have someone drive you to and from the surgery.
Recovery time frame after ear surgery
You should have a responsible adult with you for at least the first twenty-four hours during your recovery period. For the first week of recovery, it’s important that you rest frequently, though you should still move around occasionally to keep blood flowing. To minimize discomfort, it’s recommended that you recline but keep your head elevated. Do not rest your head on the operated ear, as this can result in throbbing and general discomfort.
Your doctor will let you know when any dressing can be removed, and you may be asked to apply antibiotic ointment to the ears or perform other wound care treatment at home.
Approximately one week after your procedure, you will return to the doctor’s office. Your surgeon may remove stitches at this time, though absorbable stitches are often used, which do not require removal.
Though recovery is unique for every patient, you can expect to return to work and any light activity after one week. In two weeks, your final results will be visible, though small changes to the ears can occur for up to twelve months.
Results from ear surgery are typically life-long, barring any incidents which impact the shape or proportion of the ears.
Maintain a relationship with your aesthetic plastic surgeon
For safety, as well as the most beautiful and healthy outcome, it’s important to return to your plastic surgeon's office for follow-up evaluation at prescribed times and whenever you notice any changes in your ears. Do not hesitate to contact your surgeon when you have any questions or concerns.
The cost of ear surgery or otoplasty varies from doctor to doctor and from one geographic area to another.
These numbers only reflect the physician/surgeon fees last year and do not include fees for the surgical facility, anesthesia, medical tests, prescriptions, surgical garments, or other miscellaneous costs related to ear surgery.
Because otoplasty is elective surgery, insurance does not cover these costs. Many surgeons offer patient financing plans to make the procedure more affordable.
Choose your surgeon based on quality, training, and experience—not cost.
See why ASAPS members are widely recognized for upholding the highest standards in the area of aesthetic plastic surgery by viewing their basic credentials, training, and certifications.
There are few risks associated with ear surgery, but as with any invasive surgery, there’s always a potential for complications. It’s important to be in regular contact with your surgeon after your procedure to ensure you are on the right track to recovery.
Some of the potential complications of all surgeries are:
Following your procedure, it’s normal for your ears to swell and feel tender. You may also see redness around the affected area and experience tingling in the outer ear, though this will reduce over time.
If you notice any of the following issues during your otoplasty recovery, it’s essential that you contact your surgeon immediately:
The rare but potential risks associated with ear surgery are:
If you notice any of these issues, get in touch with your surgeon as soon as possible to discuss plans for further treatment.
You can help minimize certain risks by following the advice and instructions of your board-certified plastic surgeon, both before and after your ear surgery.