What Can Be Done about Ears That Stick Out?

Most people take their ears for granted as part of their overall appearance. However, some people have ears that stick out, making them feel self-conscious about their appearance. Ears that stick out, or protruding ears, are commonly referred to as "Dumbo [the elephant] ears" and children can often be teased or even bullied about their appearance.

Some people become so concerned about what their ears look like that they decide to get them fixed, or to take their child to a specialist to see what can be done.

There are different treatments for ears that stick out. The choice will depend on the age of the person, their personal preference, and how severe the problem is. It can also be a question of cost. Otoplasty, or ear pinning surgery as it is commonly referred as, is considered to be plastic surgery - an elective surgery, not an essential one. Therefore, it is not usually covered by insurance.

What Are Protruding Ears?

Ears that stick out more than two centimeters from the side of the head are considered to be prominent or protruding. In most people, they are caused by what is called their antihelical fold not being formed correctly. This makes the outer rim of the ear, known as the helix, stick out.

Most people with ears that stick out also have a deep concha - that is, the shell-like part of the ear around the ear canal, and this can push the whole ear out from the side of the head.

Treatment Options

There are both non-surgical and surgical options for treating protruding ears. It will depend in part on the age of the patient.

Non-Surgical Ear Molding

Protruding ears can often be corrected in children under the age of six, because the ear is soft then, and still growing. The ears would be "splinted" or molded into shape to lay closer to the side of the head. The time required in splints will vary by child and age. It will be easier in a newborn infant, for example, than a toddler.

Otoplasty Surgery

If your child’s ears are already sticking out and are too stiff for molding, then ear pinning or setback otoplasty will be an option. Doctors usually wait until a child is six because by that point their ears are almost fully grown, and they will most likely be starting to get teased about their appearance.

The surgery involves a cut behind the ears, removal of cartilage, and stitching, in order to create an antihelical fold. There will also be stitches on the back of the conchal cartilage to pin the ear closer to the side of the head.

The postoperative dressings will help pin in the ears into their new position, so it is essential to do as the doctor says for best results. The surgery will be done under general anesthesia on an outpatient basis, and in most cases, the patient will be allowed to go home the same day.

After Surgery

After surgery, you will have to keep an eye out for infections, and the doctor will look at how well the surgical site is healing. Sometimes a patient may need follow-up surgery if the ears pop back into their old position.

For adults, surgery is the best option because the ear is fully grown, but the surgery may be more extensive and not get as good results because the ears have been in that position for so many years.