Ear correction surgery is cosmetic surgery to alter the size or shape of the ears, or pin them back if they stick out.
Pinning back the ears is known as an otoplasty, or pinnaplasty. It's usually carried out on children and young teenagers, although adults may wish to have it done, too.
An otoplasty isn't suitable for children younger than five as their ears will still be growing and developing.
Most people are happy with the results of an otoplasty, and generally it's a safe procedure. But it can be expensive and there are still risks to consider.
Read on to find out:
How much does it cost?
In the UK, ear correction surgery costs about £2,500-£3,500, plus the cost of any consultations or follow-up care that may be needed.
It would only be carried out on the NHS under exceptional circumstances – for example, in rare cases where a person's ears are causing them significant psychological distress.
Where do I go?
If you're looking in England, check the Care Quality Commission (CQC) website for treatment centres that can perform ear correction surgery.
All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery in England must be registered with the CQC. The CQC publishes inspection reports and performance ratings to help people choose care.
Also, research the surgeon who is going to carry out the operation. All doctors must, as a minimum, be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). Check the register to see the doctor's fitness to practise history.
You may also want to find out:
- how many ear operations they've performed where there have been complications
- what sort of follow-up you should expect if things go wrong
Read more about choosing a cosmetic surgeon.
What does it involve?
An otoplasty for an older child or adult can be done under local anaesthetic by either a plastic surgeon or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon.
It generally involves:
- making one small cut (incision) behind the ear to expose the ear cartilage
- removing small pieces of cartilage if necessary
- scoring and stitching the remaining structure into the desired shape and position
Or, you may be offered a newer technique that involves scoring the cartilage through the ear skin using a needle. No incision is made, but there's not much good evidence about the long-term quality or safety of this method.
Read the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines on incisionless otoplasty.
An otoplasty usually takes one to two hours. If local anaesthetic is used, you are able to go home the same day.
During the first few days after surgery, your ears may be sore and tender or numb. You may have a slight tingling sensation for a few weeks.
You may need to wear a bandage around your head for the first few days to protect your ears from infection. You won't be able to wash your hair during this time.
Some surgeons recommend wearing a head band at night for several weeks to protect the ears while you sleep.
There may be some slight bruising, which can last about two weeks. You may want to delay returning to work or school until the bruising has disappeared.
Sometimes the stitches may come to the surface of the skin or cause the ear to feel tender. Pain and discomfort can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
You need to avoid swimming and activities that put your ears at risk of injury – such as judo or rugby – for several weeks.
Within 5 to 10 days: Stitches are removed (unless they were dissolvable stitches) and any bandage would probably come off.
After a week or two: Most children would be able to return to school.
After eight weeks: Swimming should be OK.
After 12 weeks: Contact sports should be OK.
Side effects to expect
After ear correction surgery, it's common to have:
- a small scar behind each ear
- slight bruising around the ears
- soreness, numbness or tingling in the ears
These symptoms should fade over time.
What could go wrong
Ear correction surgery can occasionally result in:
- inflammation of the ear cartilage
- a blood clot forming in the skin of the ear
- stiff ears – it can take several months for them to become flexible again
- the ears no longer being symmetrical
- the surgery not being successful and the ears starting to protrude again
Any type of operation also carries a small risk of:
- excessive bleeding
- infection where the cut was made
- an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic
The surgeon should explain how likely these risks and complications are and how they would be treated if they occurred.
What to do if you have problems
Cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong, and the results may not be what you expected.
You should contact the clinic where the operation was carried out as soon as possible if you have severe pain or any unexpected symptoms. The surgeon who treated you is best placed to deal with any complications.
If you've had ear correction surgery and you're not happy with the results or think the procedure wasn't carried out properly, you should take up the matter with your surgeon through the hospital or clinic where you were treated.
If you have concerns about your care, you should contact the CQC.
If necessary, you can make a complaint about a doctor to the General Medical Council (GMC).
For more information, read the Royal College of Surgeon's advice on What if things go wrong?
British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS): setting back prominent ears
British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS): ear surgery
Royal College of Surgeons: cosmetic surgery FAQs