The elephant in the room – how to deal with overly prominent ears

Big earsFacial features are the first thing that people are judged on, so if you are uncomfortable with any aspect of your facial make up, it can leave you feeling shy, embarrassed and lacking in self confidence.

For 1-2% of the UK population, ears that are considered to be too prominent can cause worry and distress, and for younger people, this can sometimes result in bulling or name calling.

Ears that are considered to stick out too far are usually a hereditary problem; it is something that sufferers are born with and is usually visible in the first few weeks after they are born.

This can be as a result of the fold behind the ear being larger than normal, and this can affect both ears, or sometimes just one.

What can be done to fix the problem?

If parents of a very young child have identified overly prominent ears as a concern in their new offspring, then they can choose to have this addressed very quickly, and with relative ease.

The outer ear is made of cartilage that is very soft when children are born, hence is easily moulded to correct the issue. The ear can be splinted, and with surprising speed and effectiveness this can permanently change the position of the ear.

If the problem has gone unnoticed or ignored until the child is older, then surgery is required. The ear cartilage grows stronger and harder with age, meaning it is less adaptable to the simple pinning technique available for very young children.

Once your child has passed the 6-month mark, splinting/pinning their ears is no longer a viable fix; they need to undergo a surgical technical called a pinnaplasty or otoplasty.

Ear correction in older children and adults

This type of operation is carried out under local or general anaesthetic (which is usually dictated by the age of the patient – typically younger children are put under general anaesthetic) and involves a small incision to adjust the fold behind the ear. A small amount of scarring is left at the incision site, but this is behind the ear so is rarely noticeable.

After the operation, the patient will have a small protective dressing over the incision site for between 5 and 10 days, after which this will be removed and the stitched will be taken out.

In the days and weeks following, until your ears are fully healed, it is sensible to wear a headband or bandage to sleep in, to avoid the risk of the ears being folded by the pillow.

Patients can expect some discomfort for a few weeks after the operation, but this is usually short lived and can be lessened with pain killers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen.

If the pain is very uncomfortable, especially at night, patients may be prescribed something stronger such as codeine to help manage the pain.