Learn about this cosmetic procedure, which is done to rebuild an ear. Understand the risks and learn what to expect after surgery.
Ear reconstruction is surgery to repair or rebuild the external part of the ear, called the auricle or pinna. This surgery may be done to correct an irregularity of the outer ear that is present at birth (congenital defect). Or it may be used to restore an ear affected by cancer surgery or damaged by trauma, such as a burn.
Several surgical approaches are available for ear reconstruction. Cartilage taken from the ribs can be used to make a framework for the ear, or a medical implant may be used instead. In some cases, an artificial (prosthetic) outer ear anchored in bone may be an option.
For children who need ear reconstruction for a condition present at birth, the surgery often is done between the ages of 6 and 10, although it may be possible at earlier ages in some cases.
Ear reconstruction typically is done to treat the following conditions that affect the outer part of the ear:
Ear reconstruction only involves the outer part of the ear. It does not change the ability to hear. Surgery to correct hearing problems may be planned along with this surgery in some cases.
Ear reconstruction, as with any type of major surgery, has risks, including the risk of bleeding, infection and a reaction to anesthesia.
Other risks associated with ear reconstruction include:
Ear reconstruction is a complex process that requires a team of specialists. You'll likely meet with a plastic surgeon and a physician who specializes in ear care (otolaryngologist). If hearing loss is a concern, a hearing specialist may be involved in the surgical planning, as well.
To see if you're a good candidate for ear reconstruction, your team will likely:
Before ear reconstruction you might also need to:
Ear reconstruction can be done in a hospital or in an outpatient surgical clinic. Ear reconstruction usually is done using general anesthesia, so you'll be in a sleep-like state and won't feel pain during surgery.
Several approaches to ear reconstruction surgery are available.
Reconstruction with rib cartilage. This approach, called autologous reconstruction, often is used for children with ear conditions that are present at birth. In those cases, the surgery is usually done between ages 6 and 10. By that time, the ear has almost reached its adult size, and there's enough rib cartilage available for the procedure.
This approach involves 2 to 4 surgeries, depending on the technique a surgeon prefers to use. The surgeries include:
Recovery after ear reconstruction depends on the type of surgery you have. Some ear reconstruction requires a hospital stay, or you may be able to go home the same day.
After surgery, you may have:
Take pain medicine as directed by your health care provider. If you take pain medicine and the pain increases, contact your health care provider right away.
Talk to a member of your health care team about what you need to do to take care of your ear after surgery. You may need to wear a covering over your ear for several days.
Do not sleep on your side where the ear was reconstructed. Try not to rub or place pressure on your ear. Consider wearing button-down shirts or shirts with loose-fitting collars.
Ask your health care provider when you can go back to your daily activities, such as bathing and physical activity. Young children who have ear reconstruction need close supervision. Rough play or other strenuous activity could cause damage to the ear.
Ear reconstruction requires follow-up care. Talk to your health care provider about the appointments you need after surgery.
It can take up to three months for the ear to fully heal after ear reconstruction. If you're not satisfied with the results, talk with your surgeon about the possibility of another surgery to improve the appearance of your ear.