Prominent ears (sometimes called "bat ears") are a common cause of concern or embarrassment for people who possess them, sometimes to the surprise of their friends and colleagues. Children and adolescents with prominent ears are frequently teased and bullied, and not everyone is able to hide their ears under long hair. These are some of the common reasons people seek otoplasty surgery to "pin back" the ears.
Otoplasty is an operation that is individualised to each person and each ear - no two ears are identical! The surgery is performed as day case surgery in a hospital operating theatre. In adults the surgery can be done purely under local anaesthetic, or with local anaesthetic and sedation, or with general anaesthetic.
As the surgery can be time consuming (up to 90 minutes) many adults elect to be asleep for the surgery. Children and adolescents require a general anaesthetic for the procedure.
The exact nature of the surgery is individualised to your ears and so it varies for each patient. The surgery is performed is through incisions that are placed behind your ears. The ear cartilage is shaped and modified, and stitches are placed in the ear cartilage to hold the reshaped cartilage in a new position. Because the incisions are placed behind your ears scars are generally not visible or troublesome after otoplasty.
In the first week after surgery we recommend that children and adolescents do not attend school. For adults we recommend at least 48 hours away from work and ideally one week off work. During this time it is common to have discomfort which can be minimised by taking simple pain killers. If you are used to sleeping on one side of your head it can be difficult to get comfortable and you may have some difficulty sleeping. There may be restrictions on bathing and swimming until your first dressing change, depending on the exact nature of your surgery and thus the type of dressings applied. It is common to have bruising and swelling of your ears for 2 weeks.
Non surgical options
There are few good non-surgical options for prominent ears. In newborn babies it is possible to mould the ear with headbands, but this has limited application for most individuals. The other non-surgical options are to hide your ears (not easy!) or to accept your ears (which can be easier said than done).
What can go wrong (complications)?
The complications of otoplasty include bleeding, infection, failure to correct the position of your ear (so that it still sticks out), overcorrection of the position of your ear (so that it is pinned back to far), scarring and asymmetrical positioning of your ears (meaning that your ears don't look even when people look at your face and compare one side to the other - but please note that most people do not have completely symmetrical ears).
A haematoma ("hee-mah-toe-ma") is a concern after ear surgery. If it is to occur it will generally happen in the first 24-48 hours. A haematoma means that there is internal bleeding at the site of surgery and the blood collects between the skin and the ear cartilage. If a haematoma occurs you need to see your surgeon urgently because haematomas can result in deformities of the ear ("cauliflower ear"). Your surgeon will discuss with you how to prevent and recognise this problem. You should avoid taking aspirin for one week before otoplasty surgery to reduce the risk of bleeding.
Rarely an ear can lose its new position in the days or weeks after surgery. This happens when one or more of the stitches that are placed to shape the ear cartilage breaks or pulls out. This is why we prefer you to restrict your usual activities immediately after surgery, so that there is no pulling or tugging on your ears, and so that the natural healing process can occur free from unexpected trauma.
When can I get back to exercising?
I recommend taking at least 2 weeks away from vigorous exercising. You can resume walking and simple cycling after 48 hours. In the first 48 hours I recommend avoiding vigorous exercise as any activity that increases the blood flow to your ears can increase the amount of bruising and swelling that you develop.
What are the costs of otoplasty surgery?
Otoplasty surgery has a number of components to the cost, namely:
- the surgeon's fee
- the anaesthetist's fee
- the hospital or day surgery fee
- the cost of your post surgical appointments for one year
A Medicare and/or private health insurance rebate applies to otoplasty surgery. Dr Tomlinson will discuss this with you at your appointment. To find out what excess (if any) you will need to pay for your hospital admission please contact your health insurance company and quote the Medicare item number 45659. Once you have selected your surgery date we will ask your anaesthetist to provide you with details of their fee.
For more information about otoplasty please contact us to arrange a consultation.
Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.
Before proceeding you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.