All Ears? No Laughing Matter

When is the right time for otoplasty?

Jim Williams

Staff Writer

June 22, 2010


Disney's classic character Dumbo was all ears, and quite self-conscious about it.

Ironically, there are many children who would like to be able to fly away for the very same reason. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reports that protruding ears are the most frequent congenital deformity of the head and neck area, affecting five percent of the population.

In children, having ears that stick out or are overly large can result in being teased and laughed at, which can be psychologically and emotionally scarring. The surgery to correct this problem is called otoplasty, or ear pinning.

Otoplasty Surgery

So when is the right time? According to the ASPS, otoplasty is most often recommended near an age when ear growth is nearly complete, such as between ages 5-7. Children's ears are most often fully developed by this time, and there are no additional risks associated with age. Also, at this age, the child can cooperate in their own care and the social and psychological problems associated with peer ridicule are avoided at a critical time in their social development.

The ASPS also states the firmer cartilage of fully developed ears in adults does not provide the same molding capacity as in children, where the cartilage is extremely pliable, permitting greater ease of shaping.

How it Works

Otoplasty can be performed in an outpatient medical surgery center, a physician's office or in a hospital. Surgeons typically use a general anesthesia for young children and a local anesthetic, combined with a mild sedative, for older children and adults.

The procedure involves making an incision in the crease behind the ear, and sutures are used to correct the shape and change the position of the ear relative to the head, according to Dr. Charles Thorne, an associate professor of surgery at the N.Y.U. School of Medicine. Under normal conditions, the surgery takes about two hours.

For more information visit the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.