Introduction 

Ear reshaping is a type of cosmetic surgery used to treat protruding ears. The operation is also known as otoplasty or pinnaplasty.

Protruding ears can be a characteristic that runs in families, but this is not always the case.

They can come about if there is too much cartilage, or if the ridge of cartilage at the top of the ear does not fold properly as it develops. They can also be the result of an injury to the ears.

Ear reshaping surgery

Surgery to reshape the ears involves remodelling the cartilage into a less protruding shape. The two main techniques for correcting protruding ears are:

  • ear splinting – this involves resetting the soft cartilage and using a splint to keep the ear in the new position; it's used to treat babies under six months old
  • otoplasty or pinnaplasty (pinning back the ears) – where the cartilage is remodelled to create the missing folds and position the ear closer to the head

Learn more about when ear reshaping is used and what happens during ear reshaping.

Both procedures are considered safe and most people are happy with the results. However, as with all types of surgery, there are some risks to consider.

Read more about ear reshaping results and recovering from ear reshaping.

Why is ear reshaping used?

Having protruding ears does not usually affect a person's hearing, but can sometimes cause embarrassment and psychological distress.

Ears are one of the first parts of the body to develop to full adult size. If they stick out (protrude), they can be particularly noticeable in children and may lead to teasing or bullying.

Sometimes the parents of a child with protruding ears worry more than the child. They are often concerned their child's ears will upset them and lead to them being bullied at school.

Adults with protruding ears can have practical problems. For example, they may find it difficult to wear certain items of headgear, such as a motorbike helmet.

Women with protruding ears may also feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about wearing their hair up.

Availability on the NHS

Financial support for treating protruding ears varies considerably between clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

Some CCGs will not fund corrective treatment carried out purely for cosmetic reasons.

Others may request psychological or psychiatric reports as proof that a person's ears are causing significant psychological distress before agreeing to fund treatment.

A number of criteria have to be met for an otoplasty to be made available on the NHS. Children under 18 years old are often more likely to be considered for ear reshaping surgery.

Ear splints are available in some GP surgeries. 

Read more about the availability of ear reshaping.

Protruding ears can be a characteristic that runs in families, but they can often occur for no obvious reason 

Cosmetic surgery

Things to consider about cosmetic surgery, plus questions to ask your surgeon, what to expect, and the risks of surgery

Page last reviewed: 17/10/2014

Next review due: 17/10/2016