One’s facial features draw people’s attention at first glance more than any other body part and it is said that the symmetry of these features decides if someone is perceived to be good looking.

Speaking cosmetically, the word ‘symmetry’ could be defined as “Correct or pleasing proportion of the parts of a thing”. While the proportions of a person’s head and face are assessed with respect to the body structure, the facial features such as nose and those occurring in pair e.g eyes, ears, cheeks are assessed against the shape and dimensions of the face and head.

The shape, size and angle of the two ears influence the facial appearance and people not happy with the ears of their own or children often approach doctors to set them right.

Otoplasty (derived from Greek words), is a surgical procedure which rectifies abnormalities and deformities due to congenital conditions or accidents.

The visible outer part of the ear is known as Pinna whose main function is mostly aesthetic with some function in aiding hearing. Pinna being mainly decorative, many people feel that these are too small or big, too much angular or flat for them. Many adults feel embarrassed that their ears stick out or protrude and as a result, do not appear confident and happy.

In fact, this feeling may start from childhood and the children with defects in Pinna are often subjected to teasing in school affecting their self confidence and emotional health. Many children are born with congenital ear deformities or deformities acquired while passing through birth canal. If the defects do not self correct within a week or so of the birth, non-surgical or surgical interventions are required.

The common defects in the outer ear are the wrong angle it makes with the head due to which it sticks out and appears protruding, over or under-development of the cartilage, improper folds or deformities caused due to accidents.

The techniques used to rectify defective ears are:

1. Ear splinting:  This is used for very young babies, 6 months old or less with re-positioning of the soft cartilage by using a splint to keep and support the ear in an improved position. For older babies and children, splinting does not work as cartilage gets hard and surgery is required.

2. Otoplasty: This is the surgical technique which should be applied when the ears have developed full size. In most cases children’s ears reach full size by the age of five. There are three main types of otolasty

  • Ear augmentation of underdeveloped or absent pinna (microtia)
  • Ear pinback of protruding ears to flatten them against the head
  • Ear reduction of large pinna (macrotia)

The incision for surgery (Otoplasty) which may be 1 to 2 hours long is made behind the ear to hide it and the thin scar fades away with time. For Otoplasty, the adults are put under intravenous sedation plus local anaesthesia and the children are put under general anaesthesia. The Surgeries are done by plastic surgeons, Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) surgeons and sometimes Pediatric surgeons

The recovery period could be one to two weeks. The ears will be covered with bandages for a few days after surgery, followed by supportive head band to be worn over the ears at night.

The children and the adults may go back to school or to work after about a week. Physical work or exercise should be resumed only after two weeks in normal cases. Swimming and Contact sports are to be avoided for two and three months respectively. Certain post surgical discomforts such as numbness and bruising may continue for several weeks.

There may be some post operative complications like infection, bleeding, suture problems and recurrence of the old defect. All of these are treatable and are to be brought under the doctor’s attention and care.

Otoplasty is a safe procedure with high satisfaction rate. But the patients or the patients’ guardians should set realistic goals after consulting the surgeons.

[Source: This write up is partially sourced from the article “What Is Otoplasty? by Christian Nordqvist dated June 19, 2012 In Medical News Today]