Plastic Surgery of the Ear - Otoplasty

Protruding and drooping ears or torn earlobes can be surgically corrected. Exceptionally large ears or those that stick out make children vulnerable to teasing. These procedures do not alter the patient's hearing, but they may improve appearance and self-confidence.

What is Involved in "Pinning Back" the Ears?

Corrective surgery, called otoplasty, should be considered on ears which stick out more than 4/5 of an inch (2 cm) from the back of the head. It can be performed at any age after the ears have reached full size, usually at five or six years of age. Having the surgery at a young age has two benefits: the cartilage is more pliable, making it easier to reshape, and the child will experience the psychological benefits of the cosmetic improvement. However, a patient may have the surgery at any age.

The surgery begins with an incision behind the ear, in the fold where the ear joins the head. The surgeon may remove skin and cartilage or trim and reshape the cartilage. In addition to correcting protrusion, ears may also be reshaped, reduced in size, or made more symmetrical. The cartilage is then secured in the new position with permanent stitches which will anchor the ear while healing occurs.

Typically otoplasty surgery takes about two hours. The soft dressings over the ears will be used for a few weeks as protection, and the patient usually experiences only mild discomfort. Headbands are sometimes recommended to hold the ears in place for a month following surgery or may be prescribed for nighttime wear only.

Can Ear Deformities Be Corrected?

The "fold" of hard, raised cartilage that gives shape to the upper portion of the ear does not form in all people. This is called "lop-ear deformity," and it is inherited. The absence of the fold can cause the ear to stick out or flop down. To correct this problem, the surgeon places permanent stitches in the upper ear cartilage and ties them in a way that creates a fold and props the ear up. Scar tissue will form later, holding the fold in place.

Some infants are born without an opening in their middle ear. These ears can be surgically opened, and the outer ear reshaped to look like the other ear. This procedure will restore hearing if the inner ear is intact.

Those who are born without an ear, or lose an ear due to injury, can have an artificial ear surgically attached for cosmetic reasons. These are custom formed to match the patient's other ear. Alternatively, rib cartilage or a biomedical implant, in addition to the patient's own soft tissue, can be used to construct a new ear.

What About Torn Earlobes?

Many mothers have had their earlobes torn by a baby's tug on their earrings. Earrings also catch on clothing and other objects, resulting in torn earlobes. These tears can be easily repaired surgically, usually in the doctor's office. In severe cases, the surgeon may cut a small triangular notch at the bottom of the lobe. A matching flap is then created from tissue on the other side of the tear, and the two wedges are fitted together and stitched.

Earlobes usually heal quickly with minimal scarring. In most cases, the earlobe can be pierced again four to six weeks after surgery to receive light-weight earrings.

Never put anything smaller than your elbow in your ear! Cotton swabs are for cleaning bellybuttons-not ears. You have probably heard these admonitions from relatives and doctors since childhood…read on to find out what they meant.

The Outer Ear and Canal

The outer ear is the funnel-like part of the ear you can see on the side of the head, plus the ear canal (the hole which leads down to the eardrum).

The ear canal is shaped somewhat like an hourglass—narrowing part way down. The skin of the outer part of the canal has special glands that produce earwax. This wax is supposed to trap dust and dirt particles to keep them from reaching the eardrum. Usually the wax accumulates a bit, dries out and then comes tumbling out of the ear, carrying dirt and dust with it. Or it may slowly migrate to the outside where it can be wiped off. The ear canal may be blocked by wax when attempts to clean the ear push wax deeper into the ear canal and cause a blockage. Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss.

Should You Clean Your Ears?

Wax is not formed in the deep part of the ear canal near the eardrum, but only in the outer part of the canal. So when a patient has wax blocked up against the eardrum, it is often because he has been probing his ear with such things as cotton-tipped applicators, bobby pins, or twisted napkin corners. These objects only push the wax in deeper. Also, the skin of the ear canal and the eardrum is very thin and fragile and is easily injured.
Earwax is healthy in normal amounts and serves to coat the skin of the ear canal where it acts as a temporary water repellent. The absence of earwax may result in dry, itchy ears.
Most of the time the ear canals are self-cleaning; that is, there is a slow and orderly migration of ear canal skin from the eardrum to the ear opening. Old earwax is constantly being transported from the ear canal to the ear opening where it usually dries, flakes, and falls out.
Under ideal circumstances, you should never have to clean your ear canals. However, we all know that this isn't always so. If you want to clean your ears, you can wash the external ear with a cloth over a finger, but do not insert anything into the ear canal.

What are the symptoms of wax buildup?

Self Treatment

Most cases of ear wax blockage respond to home treatments used to soften wax if there is no hole in the eardrum. Patients can try placing a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial drops, such as Debrox®, or Murine® Ear Drops in the ear. These remedies are not as strong as the prescription wax softeners but are effective for many patients. Rarely, people have allergic reactions to commercial preparations. Detergent drops such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide may also aid in the removal of wax. Patients should know that rinsing the ear canal with hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) results in oxygen bubbling off and water being left behind—wet, warm ear canals make good incubators for growth of bacteria. Flushing the ear canal with rubbing alcohol displaces the water and dries the canal skin. If alcohol causes severe pain, it suggests the presence of an eardrum perforation.

When Should I See My Doctor?

If you are uncertain whether you have a hole (perforation or puncture) in your eardrum, consult your physician prior to trying any over-the-counter remedies. Putting eardrops or other products in your ear in the presence of an eardrum perforation may cause an infection. Certainly, washing water through such a hole could start an infection. In the event that the home treatments discussed in this leaflet are not satisfactory, or if wax has accumulated so much that it blocks the ear canal (and hearing), your physician may prescribe eardrops designed to soften wax, or he may wash or vacuum it out. Occasionally, an otolaryngologist (ENT specialist) may need to remove the wax using microscopic visualization.

The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is the world's largest specialty association for facial plastic surgery. It represents more than 2,700 facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons throughout the world. The AAFPRS is a National Medical Specialty Society of the American Medical Association (AMA), and holds an official seat in both the AMA House of Delegates and the American College of Surgeons board of governors. AAFPRS members are board certified surgeons whose focus is surgery of the face, head, and neck. AAFPRS members subscribe to a code of ethics.

Specialization in medicine has been one of the major enhancements in patient care over the last generation. AAFPRS members not only have a precise focus in patient care but they also have had more comprehensive training in facial surgery than any other medical specialty.

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