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Ear surgery (or otoplasty/pinnaplasty)

  • Last modified date:
    17 August 2007


To reduce the size or prominence of one or both ears.

The procedure:

This procedure should be carried out by a surgeon with relevant skills and experience in an establishment registered with the Healthcare Commission.

The operation usually takes around an hour. If you have the surgery as an adult, you may have a local anaesthetic and sedation, but some patients prefer a general anaesthetic. Children usually have a general anaesthetic.

The surgeon makes an incision just behind the ear in the natural fold where the ear meets the head. Cartilage and skin are then removed from the ear to achieve the right effect - additionally, some of the cartilage may be pinned back with stitches. Finally, the surgeon stitches up the initial incision and then bandages the ears to protect them.

You will be required to take a week to 10 days off work and will need to wear a head bandage fro 7 - 10 days to support the ears in their new position. The area will feel tender and swollen for a week or so, but once the bandage and sutures are removed at 7-10 days you will feel more comfortable.

The results:

Once you've had ear surgery, the results are permanent - although because ear cartilage is very elastic, there is always some forward movement of the ears after the operation.

The risks:

General risks associated with surgery - see Considering cosmetic surgery?

While the stitches heal, you may feel that your ears are pulling or are tight, but this usually goes away. Other rarer complications include infection, bleeding underneath the skin, a reaction to the anaesthetic and numbness, and you may end up with slightly asymmetrical or 'cauliflower' ears.

Most people's scars aren't noticeable, but occasionally, excess scar tissue can form which could look odd.

Before you start:

Before talking to a cosmetic surgeon, think about whether surgery is really necessary - most people's ears are not perfectly symmetrical or perfect to begin with. Then, be realistic about what you are expecting from the procedure. While ear surgery will change the physical appearance of the ears, and bring corresponding psychological benefits, there are limits to what it can do.

You should also bear in mind that the younger you are when the operation takes place, the better. The cartilage of a child is much softer and easier to mould than that of an adult - and in fact, most ear surgery patients are aged between five and 14.

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