Otoplasty is a surgery to correct prominent or protruding ears. It is not uncommon for patients to be born with ears that stick out far from their face. This is sometime referred to as “dumbo ears”. If this is recognized while the child is an infant, then there is a non-surgical options to mold the ears into better position. This is call the ear well system. Infant cartilage is easily moldable. For this reason, taping can be an effective treatment.
After the child is older than 2 months, non-surgical ear molding is no longer an option. The developing cartilage becomes elastic and has a “memory”. At this time, the only option is to bring the ears closer to the head, which requires a surgical procedure known as an otoplasty. Many times, the young child is not bothered by their ears, but it can be concerning for parents. What I want to discuss in this blog is the earliest recommended age to undergo an otoplasty.
What is the Youngest Age one can undergo an Otoplasty?
The youngest age I recommend for children to undergo ear pinning surgery is age 5. There are a variety of reasons why this is the recommended age:
1) Reason 1- Ear Development
The ears develop and grow faster than the rest of the body. By age 5, the ears are at 80% of their final adult size. At this size, the ear is large enough that further development will not affect the results of the otoplasty. In other words, the ear will not grow a significant amount after the ear pinning procedure.
2) Reason 2- Psychological Development
There have been multiple studies on the physiological development of children. There becomes an age where children begin to become self-aware of themselves and their appearance. This process occurs around the age of 5 and 6. For this reason, it is a good time to repair prominent ears before the child develops an awareness of them.
3) Reason 3- Teasing
At age five, children are beginning kindergarten. Unfortunately at this age, children can be insensitive and teasing can occur. Teasing can have a negative effect on a child’s self-esteem and confidence. For this reason, I suggest correcting protruding ears before the start of kindergarten.
4) Reason 4
There is a recovery process after undergoing an otoplasty. Children must wear a head wrap for 1 week after surgery. At this age, children are able to understand the process and some are more cooperative at wearing the bandage. At this age, they typically will not attempt to remove the bandage on their own accord.
Every child and situation is unique. There are some parents that are not comfortable for their child to undergo a minor surgical procedure at age five. If a parent chooses to wait until the child is older, it will not cause medical harm to the child. Parents are concerned it may be harder to correct the ears at an older age. This simply is not true. The ears can be corrected at any time. I have done otoplasties on patients of all ages including patients in their 70’s.
I empathize with my patient’s parents on the decision to have their children undergo a surgery at age 5. Many parents ask what I would do if it was my child. If it were my child, I would have the ears pinned at 5 years of age. The surgery and anesthesia are exceedingly safe, and I worry about the possible teasing that may occur at school. I have encountered many patients that were not able to have an otoplasty for a variety of reasons. They encounter teasing throughout their lives, and it affected their self-esteem and confidence. I would take any and all necessary steps to give my child the best chance of having a wonderful childhood.
As a facial plastic surgeon in Charlotte, North Carolina, I would be happy to discuss the options, pros, and cons for undergoing an otoplasty procedure. If a parent or patient is interested in learning more about the procedure, please call (704) 323-590 or fill out the online contact form to schedule a consultation.