What is otoplasty?
Surgery that alters the shape of the ear is referred to as otoplasty. There are several reasons why you might want otoplasty, including to change the shape of your ear, to improve the way you hear, or both.
The visible part of the ear, known as the pinna, is comprised of elastic cartilage, ligaments and muscles. Otoplasty can be used to alter these structures as well as the skin that makes up the ear. A skilled surgeon will plan an otoplasty carefully to ensure that it fits in with your other features. Each surgery is only conducted after a custom plan is created to guide the process, and you can often see a picture of what your ear will look like.
You can discuss the possibility of otoplasty with your surgeon to determine if it would be a good option for you.
Why choose otoplasty?
The ear is an important part of the body that not only changes sound into nerve signals but acts as a funnel amplifying sound and letting your body know where sounds come from. Depending on the way the ear develops, there could be deformities, birth defects or other issues that cause the ear to not work or look as well as it could. Otoplasty can help correct these issues in certain instances, often improving or correcting hearing problems caused by these.
Since otoplasty can change the position, shape, and size of the ears, it is also frequently done to change the appearance of the ear. Many people are self-conscious about their ears, and research has shown otoplasty can greatly improve people’s body image perception and decrease social appearance anxiety.
What kinds of problems can otoplasty treat?
- Protruding ears – where the outer rim of the ear sticks out
- Prominent concha – abnormalities that affect the “trunk” or concha of the ear
- Constricted ear – an abnormally small pinna
- Macrotic ear – an abnormally large pinna
- Cryptotia – where the top of the ear appears tucked away into the head
- Question mark ear – where the ear appears folded up, resembling a question mark
- Stahl’s ear deformity – an extra fold in the pinna making it appear pointed
- Many other defects including absent earlobes, scroll ear, cup ear and cleft earlobes
Otoplasty is a popular surgery because it offers a variety of benefits for those that need it, including:
- Life-saving surgery. Cancers affecting the ear may pose a significant threat, especially melanoma which needs to be treated to prevent spread elsewhere in the body. These tumours are carefully removed to ensure no traces are left behind. This is confirmed with pathology testing to give complete peace of mind.
- Hear better. Whether from a birth defect or due to an injury, many people have difficulty hearing clearly in either one or both ears. The external structure of the ear is a precision funnel which directs sound to the inner ear. Restoring this external structure to the ideal position improves hearing, speech intelligibility and help people hear voices better in a loud environment.
- Repair a damaged ear. A damaged ear, whether from an accident, a fight, or from some other cause, can lead to hearing problems and an undesirable appearance. Many individuals get ear surgery to correct problems caused by a damaged ear.
- Correct a wide range of birth deformities. Otoplasty can be performed at any point after the ears have reached their full size. This is usually after the age of 5, but it is never too late to correct or improve the function and appearance of the ear.
- Improved confidence. Ear surgery is so common because many, many people are unhappy with the appearance of their ear. After a successful ear surgery, it is common for patients to develop new, improved confidence due to the improvement in their appearance.
What are the risks?
Every significant surgery carries risks, including infection, bleeding and adverse reactions to anaesthesia. Risks specific to otoplasty include:
- Scarring. Surgeons carefully plan stitches and any scars to be hidden behind or in the creases of the ear
- Asymmetry of the ears during the healing process
- Overcorrection, where unnatural contours may be visible making the ears appear pulled back
- Change in skin sensation. For almost everyone this is temporary, but this can rarely be permanent
- Inflammation of stitches. These secure the position of the ears after surgery, however they may work their way to the surface of the skin and need to be removed.
Is it easy to perform ear surgery?
When you look at your ear, it is easy to assume that performing ear surgery would be relatively simple. It’s not a heart or some other internal organ, after all. But the truth is that otoplasty is a relatively complex, difficult surgery. There are several reasons for this:
- Small changes can have big impacts. The changes the surgeon will make to your ear will often be very small. But even small changes to the ear can have a dramatic impact on the way your ear looks and functions. Since the margin for making mistakes is small, your surgeon needs to be extremely careful with every move they make.
- Changes may not be visible during surgery. One of the big challenges with ear surgery is that the surgeon may not be able to see the results of the changes made. The surgery requires the application of local anaesthetic, which can cause the ear to swell – and any alterations made to the ear will also make it swell. All that swelling hides what the end result will look like.
- General anaesthesia is needed for some surgeries. Many otoplasties are performed under local anaesthesia with a pain-numbing injection. More detailed surgeries may need the anaesthetist to use general anaesthesia, where you will be unconscious for the surgery. This is sometimes chosen by people who prefer to be ‘asleep’ for the surgery as well, so talking to your doctor about the best option for you is always best.
- Every surgery must be customized. Some surgeries have a standard plan of action that is applied to most surgeries, but not otoplasty. Every step in your ear surgery must be made based on your unique circumstances, like the shape of your ear and what changes need to be made.
Can you go home soon after surgery?
Yes! The vast majority of ear surgeries are same-day procedures, which means you are likely to go home the same day you have the operation. There are exceptions, though, so you will want to confirm this with your doctor.
What is recovery like?
Most patients who get an otoplasty are feeling relatively normal after about a week of recovery time. You will definitely want to give yourself a week away from work and other major obligations to heal, but past that you can usually go back to your normal life.
However, it is important to remember that there will be swelling well after that one-week period. Some swelling may remain for months after the surgery – although you are likely to forget about it after a few months. Your doctor may ask you to avoid some strenuous activities, such as running, for a week or more depending on your surgery.
Can you see what your ear will look like before you go through surgery?
You can definitely get an idea of what your ears will look like by talking with your surgeon. The surgeon should be able to give you some pictures of what the expected outcome will be. Of course, there is no way to be totally certain of what the end result will look like, but the photos should give you a general idea.
Does otoplasty lead to a lot of pain?
For the right patient, ear surgery can be a great option for 5 reasons:
- To remove life-threatening tumors and prevent cancers that affect the ear from spreading
- To Improve hearing and speech intelligibility
- To repair a damaged ear from an accident or other cause
- To correct a wide range of birth deformities
- To improve self-confidence