Every parent wants the best for their children, with a life free of preventable obstacles. Otoplasty -- more commonly called ear pinning -- is one of the most common plastic surgery procedures chosen by parents for their children, and it may sidestep a childhood full of teasing.
The otoplasty procedure is simple and recovery time is short. But when is the right time? Here, I provide a primer on the procedure and things to think about if you’re considering otoplasty for your child.
While it may be best known for treating “dumbo ears,” otoplasty can be a cosmetic, reconstructive, or functional procedure, repairing other problems with the ears as well. For instance, birth defects or injury may require rebuilding of the ear for both appearance and sound-gathering performance. This type of work also comes under the scope of otoplasty work.
Usually, though, the cosmetic procedure to remove excess cartilage to bring the ears closer to the head is the elective surgery you’ll consider as a parent.
Building confidence is an important part of growing and learning through childhood, and it’s easily compromised with teasing and taunting by a child’s peers. This is usually the emotional motive behind otoplasty, but is it too much too soon?
School-age may seem very early in a child’s life to consider plastic surgery since their bodies are still developing. However, the ears are different, because they’re often fully developed by the age of four, giving children the mechanics of hearing that they’ll retain through their lives.
Since the ears develop early, performing otoplasty at a young age won’t compromise their further growth, as it might for other body parts that don’t mature until later in life.
Another advantage of otoplasty procedures between the ages of four to about fourteen is the molding capacity of ear cartilage. Younger ears are made of tissue that’s simply more pliable than older ears, which favors the outcome of childhood otoplasty. Even when only one ear may require pinning, both ears are often adjusted to create a more symmetrical result.
The timing of otoplasty surgery can be difficult because of how the procedure may impact the child. The ears are maturing around the same time that a child is retaining lifelong memories. It’s possible that the surgery itself could be their first traumatic memory if performed early in life. On the other hand, memories of surgery could be lost along with other early childhood experiences.
However, the age of four is sometimes optimistic as a point of full ear development, and I may advise holding off until your child is five or six years old, and almost certainly at a point when surgery and recovery will stay in your child’s memory.
They are also at a point when they may be able to provide input. Some children are more resistant to teasing than others. Some may be confident about the idea of surgery. The final decision at this age rests with you, the parent, so your knowledge of your child is an important part of the process.
Any surgical procedure carries a risk of complications, and these should be considered, but otoplasty is a simple procedure performed on non-critical tissue. It’s typically performed on an outpatient basis, so your child will recover at home.
Recovery typically includes bandages to hold down the ears for about one week, then up to six more weeks of using nightly elastic ear bands to keep the ears in the proper position as they heal. Antibiotics and pain relievers are usually prescribed post-surgery, and it’s important that these drugs are taken as prescribed. If your child is a hesitant pill-taker, bring this up prior to surgery so prescriptions can be adjusted to liquids, if possible.
The results of otoplasty usually outweigh the downsides. It’s a procedure with a very high success rate, and though there’s no way to tell if your child is saved the distress of teasing, it’s one less worry, and as parents, who couldn’t use fewer of those?
If you’d like to discuss otoplasty for your child, set up a consultation by calling one of my offices in New York City or use the convenient online booking tool.