Contact Us: 415-570-7352

Otoplasty (Ear Pinning)

What is Ear Correction Surgery?

Ear correction surgery refers to a variety of procedures that can normalize the appearance of the ears and earlobes. Otoplasty surgery can “pin back” the ears if an individual is born with “outstanding” ears (ears that protrude excessively from the head), or can modify enlarged or congenitally malformed ears.

Ear correction can repair Torn Earlobes from trauma (usually from babies or pets pulling on earrings). Earlobe repair can also correct deformity of the “lobule” (earlobe) from Body Modification or “gauging” (placing progressively larger discs or other items) through the earlobe skin. Regardless of the cause of the abnormality or stretching, ear lobe repair can help correct the appearance of the earlobe and allow an individual to wear normal earrings again.

Earlobe Rejuvenation refers to surgery that helps to rejuvenate earlobes that are drooping, elongated, stretched out or distorted from age or from years of wearing heavy earrings. Abnormal earlobes resulting from an improperly performed facelift can be also be corrected by earlobe surgery. Finally, ear correction can also address troublesome Keloid Scars of the ear. Ear correction surgery is usually considered cosmetic and is not usually covered by insurance.

Back to Top

Who is a Good Candidate for Ear Correction Surgery?

Good candidates for ear correction include individuals who are healthy, in good physical shape, with realistic expectations about what ear correction surgery can and cannot achieve. Otoplasty is often done in children, while their ear cartilage is still soft and maximally pliable (bendable), but can also be performed in adulthood. Most other types of ear correction surgery are sought by adults.

Smokers, patients with multiple or untreated medical problems, and individuals who have unrealistic expectations or who are psychologically unprepared for surgery are not good candidates for ear correction surgery. Learn more about Preparing for Plastic Surgery in our Preoperative Instructions section.

Back to Top

What Are the Different Types of Ear Correction Surgery?

Otoplasty (“Ear Pinning”)

Otoplasty refers to correction of excessively protruding or “outstanding ears”. Ears that project excessively from the head often are missing their natural folds in the ear cartilage and thus assume a smooth shape that lacks definition, sticking out from the head. Correction of outstanding ears recreates these natural folds and modifies the position of the ears to lie closer to the head. Outstanding ears affect both sides or can involve one ear only.

Performed as early as age 7 years of age, “ear pinning” uses sutures (stitches) to adjust the position of the ears in relation to the head. Incisions are made inconspicuously in the natural crease behind the ear, permanent sutures are placed from the ear cartilage to the bone behind the ear (known as the “mastoid process” of the skull) to sculpt the ear and reposition it closer to the head, and any excess skin or cartilage is removed. Absorbable (“dissolving”) sutures are used in the skin, and a band is worn over the ears for several weeks to protect the repair and support the ears’ new position.

For children having otoplasty surgery, a general anesthetic in the operating room is usually recommended, while adults may have surgery under local anesthetic with some oral or intravenous sedation. Otoplasty is done as an outpatient procedure, and approximately three weeks of recovery without exercise or aggressive activity or play is recommended after surgery.

Torn Earlobe Repair

Earlobes can become “split” after an earring is torn from the earlobe (usually by a child or a pet) and the area heals on its own. Split earlobes can be surgically reconstructed to reconstruct a normal appearing earlobe and enable earrings to be worn again. The site of past piercing can be removed altogether during the repair, or a small hole that enables continued wearing of earrings can be preserved.

Torn earlobe repair takes approximately an hour to perform and is done under local anesthesia in our office. We recommend you bring lightweight, hypoallergenic (gold, silver or surgical steel) small hoop earrings with you to the office; these will be inserted at the time of surgery and should be worn continuously for approximately six weeks postoperatively. Stitches are removed in 10-14 days, and heavy earrings should be avoided to avoid stretching of the earlobe and to preserve the best aesthetic result.

Earlobe Rejuvenation

The ears are continually exposed to the sun and can develop “photo-aging” like other parts of the body, and earlobes lose collagen and elastin like other regions. Surgical “rejuvenation” of the earlobes can correct elongated and stretched-out earlobes or past piercing holes that have assumed a more oblong or vertical shape, forming a permanent crease in the earlobe than can accentuate one’s age.

Like torn earlobe repair, earlobe rejuvenation is done in the office as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia and takes approximately an hour to perform. Drooping or malpositioned earlobes are “lifted” by making tiny incisions hidden in the natural fold behind the ear. Occasionally, the area of previous piercing is so low on the earlobe that the old piercing hole is obliterated altogether, the earlobe is reconstructed, and a new piercing is performed in a higher and more aesthetic location. Earlobe rejuvenation surgery can make the lobule look plumper, more rounded and smaller, often appearing younger.

Nonsurgical Earlobe Rejuvenation

A “Liquid” Earlobe Lift is also possible. Injectable fillers can be used to help plump up saggy or deflated earlobes, fill in permanent creases that form with loss of collagen and elastin, and can smooth out the earlobe skin to help create a younger look to the ears. For women who wear earrings and whose piercing hole has stretched, injection of dermal fillers can possibly help make the hole smaller.

As opposed to injection of fillers in the face where “animation” (muscle movement) occurs regularly, fillers injected the earlobe could potentially last up to twice as long because the area does not move as much and the substance is more slowly degraded over time. Lastly, it is also possible to have a Chemical Peel on the earlobe to help improve the skin’s appearance in this region, in addition to the face, neck and décolletage.

So whether you are happy having cosmetic surgery or not, there is now no excuse for having aged earlobes!

Back to Top

What Really Happens During Ear Correction Surgery?

Please see our Preparing for Surgery section to learn about what happens in the operating room on the day of surgery.

While Otoplasty in children is performed under general anesthesia in the main operating room, ear correction in adults is usually done in the office. Local anesthesia is injected, areas of past scar or trauma are removed, the earlobe position and form is corrected, and sutures are placed. An advantage to being awake during earlobe surgery is that you can provide feedback during the procedure (for instance, placement of a new piercing, earlobe length or width). Ear correction is an outpatient procedure and can take 1-2 hours to perform, depending on the details of surgery.

Back to Top

What is the Recovery After Ear Correction Surgery?

Following an Otoplasty, the head is wrapped in soft, protective bandages to protect the ears and encourage healing in their new position. The area of surgery will be numb from local anesthetic injected during surgery; this will last for many hours afterward. Oral pain medication such as Tylenol with codeine will be prescribed after surgery for a few days.

Bandages will be removed in the office a couple of days after otoplasty surgery; after which time antibiotic ointment should be applied to the incisions twice daily at home for another week. Exercise and aggressive play in children should be avoided for approximately three weeks. A few days off work is recommended in adults to allow for initial healing and protection of the ears. A special headband is worn around the head for a few weeks to hold the ears in their new position.

Torn Earlobe Repair is a minor procedure with very little downtime. Exercise should be avoided for approximately two weeks. Showering can resume the day after surgery, and stitches are removed 7-10 days after surgery. After Earlobe Rejuvenation, restrictions are the same as for earlobe repair.

During recovery from any type of ear surgery, patients may experience temporary discomfort that is managed with oral pain medications. Mild headache, swelling, bruising and numbness should subside in a few days. Any sutures that do not dissolve on their own will be painlessly removed in the office within a week or two. Antibiotic ointment should be applied twice daily for approximately a week after surgery. Please see our Postoperative Instructions section and Special Instructions for Facial Surgery for additional information pertaining to recovery from ear correction surgery.

Back to Top

What Are Potential Risks and Complications of Ear Correction Surgery?

When you are considering any type of surgery, you should be fully educated about potential risks and complications. Please see our Preparing for Surgery section to learn about general risks and potential complications, Special Considerations for Facial Plastic Surgery, and our section on Postoperative Instructions for additional information pertaining specifically to ear surgery.

Back to Top

Before and after ear correction surgery results will be reviewed during your consultation.

Back to Top

As women Plastic Surgeons, we intimately understand how an individual’s looks and their feelings about their appearance can influence self-image and self-esteem. At your otoplasty consultation, your surgeon will spend a great deal of time with you to get to know you personally and take a complete medical history. We will explore in detail your reasons for seeking ear correction surgery, and if you are an appropriate candidate for surgery, your options will be described in detail.

Back to Top

Dr. Karen M. Horton, M.D. - Plastic Surgery, Physicians & Surgeons - Medical-M.D., San Francisco, CA