Under most circumstances, parents, doctors, and especially plastic surgeons agree – cosmetic procedures aren’t appropriate for growing children. Certainly, there are exceptions, such as part of reconstruction after a major injury, but typically it’s best for children to wait until they’re fully grown to undergo such procedures.
One intervention that’s appropriate for people of almost any age, however, is otoplasty, a procedure that modifies the shape and position of the ears. In fact, unlike other procedures, otoplasty is most commonly performed on children ages 4 to 14. Within a field dominated by procedures for adults, otoplasty is a special case.
An All Ages Procedure
While otoplasty is most commonly performed on children who have unusually large or protruding ears, it can be performed on anyone with cosmetic complaints about their ears. For example, adults may undergo otoplasty to repair torn earlobes or birth defects, or to reduce the prominence of their ears if they did not undergo otoplasty as children. In fact, many of these adults would have undergone otoplasty as children if they were born today, in large part to prevent teasing and low self-esteem.
Regarding the issue of self-esteem, both self-perception and teasing play a major role in why doctors regularly perform otoplasty on children, but it’s not the only one. After all, if it was all about self-esteem, doctors would perform plastic surgery on children much more often; and, of course, many adults have plastic surgery to improve their self-esteem.
What makes otoplasty exceptional is that a child’s ears are full size by age four, as is the skull more generally. That means that doctors can see the approximate adult proportions of a child’s ears in a way that they cannot with other body parts. That’s what makes the ears an ideal site for early surgery, especially if it can help the child avoid bullying.
Other Reasons For Otoplasty
In addition to having unusually large or protruding ears, there are several other common reasons that plastic surgeons may perform otoplasty, particularly structural issues or due to trauma. Premature infants, for example, often have unusual ear folds or external structural issues, and if these aren’t corrected within the first six weeks of life using ear molds, the cartilage hardens too much and can necessitate surgery to fix.
Another reason that someone might undergo otoplasty is because of ear trauma, especially that related to playing sports. Contact athletes, most notably wrestlers, are prone to a condition known as cauliflower ear, which is the result of blood pooling in the external ear after an injury. Though the initial injury may be treated, if it isn’t treated promptly, if the initial drainage and compression isn’t successful, or if you have repeated cases of ear trauma, surgical intervention may be the only option.
Though rarely medically necessary, otoplasty is one of the many interventions that resolve a quality of life issue – whether because large ears lead to bullying or misshapen ears cause discomfort or difficulty fitting glasses or hearing aids. It’s also a comparatively low-risk procedure since the external ear doesn’t play a major role in hearing. Overall, otoplasty is associated with a high degree of satisfaction, whether performed on children or adults.