What Can Be Done in Tiny Babies

In a lot of cases, sticking-out ears are evident at birth, so can be dealt with straight away. The gristle (cartilage) of a newborn baby is soft, so the ears can be corrected by placing a special small splint of cushioned wire in the hollow of the rim of the ear and taping it back for several weeks (British Medical Journal 2007;334:366–368). Parents can buy a kit containing splints with instructions.

What Can Be Done in Older Children and Adults

An operation (otoplasty) to correct sticking-out ears is often done when the child is over 5 or 6 years old. However, there is no reason why it cannot be done at any age. The operation does not affect hearing.

Children need a general anaesthetic, but adults can have the operation with just a local anaesthetic. There are several different techniques. In the most common operation, the surgeon cuts away skin and tissue from behind each ear and stitches it into its new position. The ears are bandaged for about 10 days after the operation, and after that the stitches are removed. You will have to wear a headband at night for the next 2 weeks so that you do not accidentally bend the ears forward during sleep.

As with any plastic surgery operation, it is important to find a plastic surgeon who is skilled at this particular operation. If it is clumsily done, you may end up with a plastered-down look, or with ears that do not look the same. Look at the section on cosmetic surgery for general advice.

Fascinating Facts

  • By the time we are 9 years old, our ears are roughly 90% of their full size. But the cartilage does keep growing.
  • In Chinese culture, it is believed that long ears signify nobility (and predict a long life), and thick earlobes predict greater wealth
  • A burglar who listened at doors and windows, to see if anyone was at home, was caught by his ear prints left at scenes of his crimes
  • In 1998, a retired company director handed out thousands of large cardboard ears to commuters as they crossed London Bridge into the business area of the City. He filmed the businesspeople wearing the ears, and submitted the film for the contemporary art Turner Prize


First published on: embarrassingproblems.com
Reviewed and edited by: Dr Anna Cantlay
Last updated: October 2020

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