Cosmetic ear surgery is a procedure to improve the appearance of the ear. The most common procedure is to move very large or prominent ears closer to the head.
Cosmetic ear surgery may be done in the surgeon's office, an outpatient clinic, or a hospital. It can be performed under local anesthesia, which numbs the area around the ears. You may also receive medicine to make you relaxed and sleepy. It can also be done under general anesthesia, in which you are asleep and pain-free. This is the preferred method of anesthesia in children. The procedure usually lasts about 2 hours.
During the most common method of cosmetic ear surgery, the surgeon makes a cut in the back of the ear and removes the skin to see the ear cartilage. The cartilage is folded to reshape the ear, bringing it closer to the head. Sometimes the surgeon will cut the cartilage before folding it. Sometimes skin is removed from behind the ear. Stitches are used to close the wound.
Why the Procedure is Performed
The procedure is often done to reduce self-consciousness or embarrassment of the unusual shape of the ears.
In children, the procedure can be done after they are 5 or 6 years old, when ear growth is almost finished. If the ears are very disfigured (lop ears), the child should have surgery early to avoid possible emotional stress.
Risks of anesthesia and surgery in general are:
- Reactions to medicines
- Breathing problems
- Bleeding, blood clots, or infection
Risks of cosmetic ear surgery include:
- Areas of numbness
- Collection of blood (hematoma)
- Increased feeling of cold
- Recurrence of the ear deformity
- Keloids and other scars
- Poor results
Before the Procedure
Women should tell the surgeon if they are or think they are pregnant.
For the one week before surgery, you may be asked to stop taking blood thinners. These medicines may cause increased bleeding during the surgery.
- Some of these medicines are aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn).
- If you are taking warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven), dabigatran (Pradaxa), apixaban (Eliquis), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), or clopidogrel (Plavix), talk with your surgeon before stopping or changing how you take these medicines.
During the days before your surgery:
- Ask which medicines you should still take on the day of your surgery.
- Always let your health care provider know if you have a cold, flu, fever, herpes breakout, or any other illness in the time leading up to your surgery.
On the day of your surgery:
- You will likely be asked not to drink or eat anything after midnight the night before your surgery. This includes using chewing gum and breath mints. Rinse your mouth with water if it feels dry. Be careful not to swallow.
- Take the medicines you have been told to take with a small sip of water.
- Arrive on time for the surgery.
Be sure to follow any other specific instructions from your surgeon.
After the Procedure
The ears are covered with thick bandages after surgery. Typically, you can go home after you are awake from the anesthesia.
Any tenderness and discomfort can be controlled with medicine. The ear bandages are usually removed after 2 to 4 days, but may stay on longer. A head wrap or headband needs to be worn for 2 to 3 weeks to help the area heal.
Be sure to call your surgeon if you have severe ear pain. This can be due to infection of the ear cartilage.
Scars are very light and are hidden in the creases behind the ears.
A second procedure may be needed if the ear sticks out again.
Otoplasty; Ear pinning; Ear surgery - cosmetic; Ear reshaping; Pinnaplasty
Adamson PA, Carniol ET, Gantous A. Otoplasty. In: Flint PW, Francis HW, Haughey BH, et al, eds. Cummings Otolaryngology: Head and Neck Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 31.
Thorne CH. Otoplasty and ear reduction. In: Rubin JP, Neligan PC, eds. Plastic Surgery: Volume 2: Aesthetic Surgery. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 20.
Review Date 12/10/2021
Updated by: Tang Ho, MD, Associate Professor, Division of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, The University of Texas Medical School at Houston, Houston, TX. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.