If you have misshaped or protruding ears or you have a child who does, otoplasty may be for you. Otoplasty is the surgery to correct abnormalities in the structure of the ear.

The surgery is often targeted for children who are age 5 or over. Some adults also choose to have cosmetic ear reshaping. The surgery is not just for protruding ears.

Otoplasty can correct abnormally large ear lobes; "lop ear," which means your ear tip folds down, and trends forward; or "shell ear," which means certain features of a normal ear are missing, such as the curve in the outer rim and other natural folds.

If you are the parent of a child with awkward ears, it’s important to listen to all your child’s frustrations if he or she has been ridiculed at school or in other social environments. Having awkward ears can be downright embarrassing and can interfere with a child’s psychological and emotional development. Fortunately, this surgery can help avoid or correct these problems.

How is an otoplasty done?

The good news is that medical advancements have made it much easier to undergo an otoplasty. Currently, there are several ways the ear can be reshaped. One involves cutting out the cartilage (the main structural component) of the ear; another involves folding and stitching that cartilage instead of cutting it away.

In either case, your surgeon will begin by making a small incision at the back of your ear, allowing him or her to access the cartilage and conduct the necessary procedure. After the surgery is complete, the incision site will be secured with stitches.

How do I prepare for an otoplasty?

In your consultation, you will be able to discuss all your expectations with your surgeon. Together, you can decide which option is best for you or your child. You should plan to stay home for at least five days after the surgery. Children should stay home from school for at least one week and limit their activities.

The actual surgery will last about two to three hours, depending on the complexity of the procedure for your particular case. Again, if your situation requires a more complex procedure, it may take even longer than three hours. Your surgeon will detail all of this for you.

If you are an adult, your surgeon probably will use local anesthesia with a sedative. A child probably will receive general anesthesia (be put to sleep); to ensure that he or she will not move during the operation.

If the patient is receiving general anesthesia, he or she is not allowed to eat or drink after midnight the night before surgery, or the morning of the surgery. The last meal the night before surgery should be very light.

Most otoplasties are performed in the surgeon’s office or in an outpatient facility.

You should be sure to wear loose fitting, comfortable clothing. Do not wear a shirt with a restrictive collar; ideally, you should wear a button down shirt that you do not have to pull over your head. This is especially important for children. You want to avoid any unnecessary impact to the surgery site.

Most surgeries will be completed within a few hours and you can go home the same day. It’s a good idea to have someone with you who can drive you home and stay with you the first night.


When you are sent home, you will have a dressing on the ear. It is important to follow your doctor’s instructions on how to handle the dressing.

You will have to wear your dressing for about one week, but your surgeon will give you detailed instructions on when it can come off and how to best manage it while you sleep.

You will have scars at the incision site; however, these will fade over time.

What are the complications and side effects from an otoplasty?

As with any surgery, there are risks. With otoplasty, more uncommon complications can include infection or blood clots. However, complications are rare and most people are extremely satisfied with the results. You should expect to experience pain and swelling; your surgeon will prescribe a painkiller if necessary, and a prescription antibiotic in some cases as a preventive measure against infection.

Contact your doctor immediately if:

  • You develop a fever
  • You experience excessive bleeding or swelling
  • If, for any reason, you have any trauma to your surgical site

Does insurance cover otoplasty?

Your insurance carrier may provide coverage if an otoplasty is being used to correct a deformity or congenital abnormality. It’s important that you begin talking to your insurance carrier early, so you can understand exactly what the company will cover. In most cases, your surgeon can write a letter to your carrier explaining your case. If you are merely having the surgery performed for cosmetic purposes, insurance coverage probably does not apply. In this case, it’s important to receive your doctor’s charges in writing and to discuss payment options.


  • American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Cosmetic Procedures. Ear Surgery: Otoplasty. www.plasticsurgery.org. Accessed: 1/25/2013
  • American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. Procedures: Procedure Types: Otoplasty: Ear Surgery www.aafprs.org. Accessed: 1/25/2013
  • Wise JB, Sunder S, Quatela V, Constantinides M. Chapter 79. Otoplasty & Microtia. In: Lalwani AK, ed. CURRENT Diagnosis & Treatment in Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery. 3rd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2012. www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed 1/25/2013

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/26/2010...#11021