Prominent ears, sometimes known as 'bat ears' are a relatively common problem that sometimes lead to teasing and self-consciousness in childhood or adulthood. Otoplasty is the operation undertaken to correct prominent ears. It can be very beneficial for certain patients.
Why do Prominent Ears occur?
During development the cartilage structure of the ear folds to create the normal shape of the ear. Occasionally, this process is incomplete in the region of the ear called the 'antehelical fold', which is the ridge running along the length of the normal ear. This results in the ear sitting further out from the head and is the most common problem causing prominent ears. Other reasons for prominent ears include a deep 'conchal bowl' (the cup-like region of the ear), naturally large ears, or asymmetric ears. Prominent ears may be sporadic or run in families and may be unilateral (one side) or bilateral (both sides).
What treatment is available?
Surgery is required to treat prominent ears. This is usually performed under general anaesthetic, in hospital, as day surgery. Otoplasty involves exposing the cartilage structure of the ear and reshaping it to create the missing fold. Sutures are used to help hold the new shape.
What is the recovery time?
Otoplasty surgery takes up to 2 hours and is a day only procedure done in hospital under general anaesthetic. During surgery a head bandage will be applied that must stay intact and dry for one week. The bandage is very important as it covers the moulded dressings placed into the reshaped ear to support the new shape and reduce bleeding. Bandages will be removed in Dr O'Mahony's rooms at one week post surgery. Following bandage removal, the patient must wear a head band (such as a ski band or sweat band style of garment) for 2 weeks during the day and night to gently protect the ears from trauma or folding, then for a further 2 weeks at night only. The ears can get wet in the shower once bandages have been removed but swimming should be avoided for 2 weeks. Contact sports, swimming caps and helmets should be avoided for 6-8 weeks following surgery. Stitches in the skin on the back of the ear are dissolvable and will disappear in 2-3 weeks.
Most children feel miserable in the first few days after surgery and may sleep poorly. Pain is well controlled with oral medicine but the bulky head bandage can be irritating to them as they can't hear clearly through the bandage, and they may experience some nausea from the packing in the ears.
At what age can prominent ears be corrected?
When planning surgery in children it is important not to interfere with growth so timing is important. Prominent ears should not be corrected surgically before this age, but can be successfully treated from 4.5 - 5 years onwards. By this stage the ear has achieved approximately 80% of adule size and the surgery will have little impact on future growth. Otoplasty does not have to be done in childhood, it can be undertaken long into adulthood. In the process of aging ear cartilage stiffens so the better results may be seen in children, adolescents or younger adults.
What is the Cost of Otoplasty Surgery?
Otoplasty surgery is usually covered to some level by Medicare and/or Health Insurance, but the specific cover and out of pocket cost depends on your individual Health Fund. You will need a referral letter from your GP to make a claim with Medicare. If you would like to explore the options for Prominent Ear surgery for your child or yourself, please contact Dr O'Mahony's office to make an appointment.