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Ear correction surgery, including ear pinning

Ear correction surgery is cosmetic surgery to alter the size or shape of the ears, or pin them back if they stick out.

Generally, ear correction surgery is safe and most people are happy with the results. However there are risks to consider, and it may be expensive.

Pinning back the ears is known as an otoplasty or pinnaplasty. It's usually done on children and young teenagers, although adults can also have it done.

Ear pinning surgery is not suitable for children younger than 5 because their ears are still growing and developing. At a very young age the ear cartilage is too soft to hold the stitches.

Ear correction surgery is sometimes available on the NHS

Ear correction surgery may be available on the NHS, particularly for children who need it.

Occasionally, adults with prominent ears may be able to have a pinnaplasty on the NHS if it's causing them significant distress.

How much ear correction surgery costs

In the UK, ear correction surgery may cost between £2,500 to £3,500, plus the cost of any consultations or follow-up care that may be needed.

The exact cost will depend on the type of surgery you're having. Make sure you find out the full cost and what's included.

What to think about before you have ear correction surgery

Before you go ahead, be sure about why you want ear correction surgery. Take time to think about your decision.

Read more about whether cosmetic surgery is right for you. You could also speak to a GP about it.

Choosing a surgeon

If you're having ear correction surgery in England, check with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to see if the hospital or clinic is registered with them.

All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery in England must be registered with the CQC.

Be careful when searching the internet for doctors and clinics who provide ear correction surgery. Some clinics may pay to advertise their services on search listings.

Check the surgeon is registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). They should be listed on the specialist register and have a licence to practise.

Also, check with the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) or the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) to see if the surgeon is a "full member" on the specialist register for plastic surgery.

Always book an appointment to meet the surgeon before the operation.

You may want to ask your surgeon:

  • about their qualifications and experience
  • how many ear correction operations they've done
  • how many operations they've done where there have been complications
  • what sort of follow-up you should expect if things go wrong
  • what their patient satisfaction rates are

Read more about choosing who will do your cosmetic procedure.

What ear correction surgery involves

What happens during ear correction surgery depends on the type of surgery you have.

An otoplasty on 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 usually involves:

  • making a small cut behind the ear to expose the ear cartilage
  • removing small pieces of cartilage if necessary
  • putting stitches at the back of the ear to reshape or position it closer to the head

An otoplasty usually takes 1 to 2 hours. If local anaesthetic is used, you'll be able to go home the same day.

You may need a bandage around your head to help your ears heal in their new position and protect them from infection.

Incisionless otoplasty

This newer technique does not make cuts in the skin.

It involves inserting a needle into the surface of the ear cartilage to make it more flexible. Stitches are used to hold the ear in its new shape or fix the cartilage to a bone behind the ear.

However, there is not much good-quality evidence to prove the procedure is safe, or show how well it works.

Read the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines about incisionless otoplasty.

Recovery

If you have a bandage around your head, keep it clean and dry. You will not be able to wash your hair until after the bandage has been removed.

You might need to wear a headband at night for several weeks to protect your ears while you sleep.

The stitches may come to the surface of the skin or make your ear feel tender. Treat any pain with painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

After 7 to 10 days: The bandage (if used) and stitches are removed (unless they're dissolvable stitches).

After 1 to 2 weeks: Most children can return to school. 

After 4 to 6 weeks: Swimming should be OK.

Around 12 weeks: Contact sports should be OK.

Side effects

After ear correction surgery, it's common to have:

  • a small scar behind each ear, which will fade in time
  • sore and tender ears for the first few days
  • numbness or tingling in the ears for a few weeks
  • slight bruising around the ears for about 2 weeks

What could go wrong

Ear correction surgery can occasionally cause:

  • inflammation of the ear cartilage
  • a blood clot 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

Your surgeon should explain how likely these risks and complications are and how they would be treated.

What to do if you have problems 

Cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected.

Contact the clinic where you had the operation as soon as possible if you have severe pain or any unexpected symptoms. The surgeon who treated you should be able to deal with any complications.

If you're not happy with the results or think the procedure was not done properly, speak to your surgeon at the hospital or clinic where you were treated.

You can contact the (CQC) if you have concerns about your care.

If necessary, you can make a complaint about a doctor to the GMC.

The Royal College of Surgeons also has more information and advice about what to do if things go wrong.

Further information

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

Page last reviewed: 15 August 2019
Next review due: 15 August 2022