Often we think of childhood as an idyllic time of our lives, when we had little to worry about and before the onslaught of peer pressure during adolescent. But children whose appearance makes them look “different” – for example, children with ears that protrude noticeably or are abnormally large in proportion to their other features — sometimes do not experience childhood as a particularly happy time. Teasing and taunts from their classmates at school, and even from friends who don’t fully realize the pain they are inflicting, can produce deep and long-lasting psychological scars.
Although parents may initially be reluctant to consider surgery to correct their child’s protruding ears, it is often recommended by family physicians, psychologists and plastic surgeons for very young children. Surgery can improve the shape or positioning of the ears, making them look normal. Ear reshaping, also called otoplasty, is possible as early as age five or six, because the ears are almost totally developed by then. When the ears are corrected prior to the child entering school, the surgery helps eliminate potential psychological trauma. Ear reshaping can also be successfully performed on older children and adults.
The ears are positioned closer to the head by reshaping the supporting tissue, called cartilage. This is usually accomplished through incisions placed behind the ears so that resulting scars will be hidden in a natural skin crease. A small portion of skin behind the ear, sometimes with the underlying fat, is removed. Then the cartilage is recontoured and stitched to bring the ear into its correct position. This reshaped cartilage restores the ear fold and makes the ear lie flatter against the head.
After surgery, a gauze dressing, bandage or headband may be worn for a few days or several weeks to ensure that the ears heal in their new, corrected position. The end result is a normal appearance to the ears – and often a happier, emotionally healthier child.