More than 4000 otoplasty procedures were performed in the United States in 2012. Otoplasty is a type of cosmetic surgery that involves building the outer ear after an accident or as a result of a congenital deformity. In other words, it is a surgical reshaping of the outer ear or pinna. The main purpose of this procedure is to improve the appearance or correct the deformity. This cosmetic procedure is typically performed during childhood but can be also done on patients of any age. Doctors advise making use of this type of surgery if ears stand out more than 2 centimeters from the side of the head.
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about this cosmetic surgery. Therefore, the following section of this article depicts answers to the most common questions that people typically have about otoplasty.
What is otoplasty?
Otoplasty is most commonly referred to as cosmetic ear surgery, which is performed on the visible portion of the outer ear, called the auricle. It consists of folds of cartilage that are covered in skin. Its development starts before birth and continues after a person is born. Thus, in case the auricle develops improperly, a person may want to go for otoplasty for the purpose of correcting the positioning, size or shape of the ears.
Specialists differentiate between several types of otoplasty, which are as follows:
- Ear pinning: this is a type of cosmetic procedure that involves drawing the ears closer to the head. It is normally done on people whose ears stick out prominently from the sides of their head
- Ear augmentation: this type of surgery is performed on people who have small ears or ears that have not developed properly. Therefore, it is done in order to increase the size of the outer ear
- Ear reduction: this cosmetic is effective for people whose ears are larger than normal. This condition is called microtia and people with this condition choose otoplasty for the purpose of reducing the size of the ears.
Who is a perfect candidate for this cosmetic procedure?
As was mentioned above, otoplasty is typically performed for ears that:
- Are smaller or larger than normal
- Protrude from the head
- Have an abnormal shape because of accident, injury or structural disorder from birth
Furthermore, some people might decide to undergo this type of cosmetic surgery in case they are not satisfied with the results of previous otoplasty. Specialists say that good candidates for otoplasty are:
- Children ages 5 or older. This is a time when the auricle has reached 90 percent of its adult size
- People who are in good overall health and do not have any underlying health conditions as they can increase the risk of complications or affect healing
- People who do not smoke as smoking might decrease blood flow to the area and slow the healing process
How does the whole procedure look like?
Everything starts with a consultation. However, you need to carefully choose the plastic surgeon for otoplasty. Make sure he/she is board certified. A great tool helping to find a board-certified specialist in your area is the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. During the initial consultation, you can expect the following:
- Your plastic surgeon will go through the medical history. Thus, you should be ready to answer questions regarding medications that you take, previous surgeries and any medical conditions that you experienced or is currently experiencing
- After the medical history review, you will go through an examination where a specialist will evaluate the placement of your ears, its size, and shape. In addition to that, he/she might also take pictures and measurements
- The next step is discussion wherein you will discuss all the potential risks, costs and outcomes of the surgery. During this phase, you have to state your expectations clearly.
Otoplasty surgery normally takes between 1 to 3 hours. Although, the duration of the surgery depends on the patient’s specific conditions and the complexity of the procedure. Adults typically receive local anesthesia with a sedative during the procedure. However, in some cases general anesthesia is applicable. It is normally recommended for young children.
The surgical technique used for otoplasty is determined by the type of surgery a patient has and to be more specific, it includes the following:
- Making an incision either on inside the folds of the ear or on the back of the ear
- Manipulating the tissue of the ear, which might include removal of the skin or cartilage, shaping or folding of cartilage with permanent stitches or grafting of cartilage to the ear
- Closing the incisions with stitches
After the surgery, a plastic surgeon will place a dressing over the ears. You need to make sure that it is always clean and dry. In addition to that, specialists advise making use of the following recommendations during the recovery process:
Eliminate touching or scratching ears
Do not sleep on your ears
Choose clothing that does not involve pulling over your head such as button-up shirts
In some cases, you will have to remove stitches and your doctor will typically let you know whether it is necessary. It should be also said that there are certain stitches that dissolve on their own.
What are the common post-surgery side effects?
Most typical side effects during the recovery stage include:
- Numbness or tingling
- Sore, tender or itchy ears
As was mentioned above, dressing will stay in place for around a week. When it gets removed, you will have to wear an elastic headband for another 4 to 6 weeks. Although, this headband can be worn at night. Your plastic surgeon will tell you when you can return to your normal activities.
What are the risks associated with this surgery?
Just like any other surgery, otoplasty involves certain risks and they are as follows:
- Bad reaction to the anesthesia
- Not symmetrical ears
- Contours that do not look natural
- Scarring around the incisions sites
- Temporary modifications in skin sensation
- Suture extrusion
Does insurance cover otoplasty surgery?
The average cost of otoplasty in the United States is around $3,200, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. The main determinants of the cost of this cosmetic surgery are the plastic surgeon, location and the clinic. Apart from the cost of the procedure itself, there could be other related costs including anesthesia fees, prescription medications and the type of facility being used.
In the vast majority of cases, otoplasty surgery is not covered by insurance. It is mainly due to the fact that it is normally considered cosmetic. Therefore, you will have to pay costs out of your pocket. It should be also said that some clinics offer a payment plan in order to help with costs. You can ask whether your clinic offers this option during the initial consultation. It is highly important to discuss the coverage with the insurance prior to the procedure.
If you are not satisfied with the shape or size of your ears, otoplasty is a great solution for you. Choose a board-certified specialist and discuss your concerns in order to determine whether you are the right candidate for this type of cosmetic surgery.