Congenital Ear Deformities 

Updated: Mar 22, 2021
Author: Carl H Manstein, MD, MBA, CPE; Chief Editor: Deepak Narayan, MD, FRCS 


Practice Essentials

Approximately 5% of the population has some sort of ear malformation. Protruding ear and external ear microtia (or a variant) are the two most frequently encountered congenital ear problems in plastic surgery. The former condition is commonly treated by many practitioners, while the latter has become the bailiwick of just a few surgeons. Most of this discussion focuses on prominent ears because of their common occurrence. Otoplasty has undergone important developments, with numerous techniques being presented in the surgical literature. Congenital ear microtia and atresia is treated in only a few centers by surgeons with an established reputation, similar to the way some centers specialize in craniofacial osteotomy surgery.

Examples of preoperative and postoperative otoplasty are shown in the images below.

Preoperative otoplasty. Preoperative otoplasty.
Preoperative otoplasty. Preoperative otoplasty.
Postoperative otoplasty. Postoperative otoplasty.
Postoperative otoplasty. Postoperative otoplasty.

An observational study by Litschel et al indicated that when viewing a face with protruding ears, observers tend to have a longer visual fixation time on the ears than they do when viewing an individual with nonprotruding ears but that protruding ears do not significantly affect the observer’s opinion of an individual’s personality with regard to assiduousness, intelligence, and likeability. The study involved 20 observers who viewed photos of children with either protruding or nonprotruding ears.[1]


Historically, prominent or protruding ears have been treated surgically. However, nonsurgical techniques have emerged to treat neonates immediately after delivery.[2] The posterior helical rim is taped to the posterior retroauricular region with surgical tape. Tubular elastic net bandage or some type of ear wrap is used for reinforcement. To achieve the desired result, such techniques must begin in the first few weeks of life and take several weeks or months of constant and vigilant therapy.

Surgical techniques employed in the correction of prominent or protruding ears include the following:

  • Skin excision
  • Radial placed mattress sutures
  • Conchomastoid sutures
  • Excision of conchal cartilage
  • Incisionless and sutureless methods - Authors have elaborated on techniques in which the cartilage of the ear is split without sutures [3] and the incisionless otoplasty technique [4]
  • Laser-assisted cartilage reshaping

History of the Procedure

Many different approaches to setback otoplasty have been developed. Originally, the first operations were merely resection of skin from the posterior sulcus. Approximately 200 different techniques have now been described for setback otoplasty; each technique has strengths and weaknesses. Over the years, an evolution of operations has occurred, including those with and without sutures, with and without resection of cartilage, and with or without scoring of cartilage. With this many variations, no single "right" technique exists.

Microtia as a modern operation was first pioneered by Tanzer from Dartmouth Medical School. Tanzer was the first to develop the technique of using a whole piece of rib cartilage to simulate the cartilaginous structure of the external ear. Burt Brent from Stanford, Calif, expounded upon Tanzer's work and has written extensively about microtia reconstruction.


The expression "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" is often quoted and still quite relevant. What constitutes a prominent ear? Ray Elliot stated in his 1990 review article in Clinics of Plastic Surgery, "the esthetic ear protrudes less than 2 cm when measured from the surface of the helix to the mastoid scalp at the midpoint of the ear's length."[5] However, once this measurement achieves a distance of less than 1.2 cm, the ear has an equally displeasing "pinned back" appearance. The ear protrudes more at the lower pole and less so at the upper pole because of the shape of the skull. The scaphoconchal angle should have a natural soft roll and should not block the view of the helix anywhere along its course when viewed anteriorly.



No statistics are available on the prevalence of protruding or prominent ears. Heredity plays a role in many deformities of the external ear.


Most embryologic studies of the ear focus on the development of the 6 ear hillocks. These hillocks appear around the fundus of the first branchial groove by 38 days of gestation. As the groove closes and the first and second arches come together, the primitive ear is formed by day 50 of gestation. The first 3 hillocks come from the first branchial arch and the second 3 from the second branchial arch. Absence of hillocks 2-5 produces a frequent and typical microtia. Malformations of the ear can appear anywhere during this development.


Features seen in the patient with prominent or protruding ears (in decreasing order of importance) include the following:

  • Absent antihelical fold

  • Obtuse scaphoconchal angle

  • Increased distance of helical rim to scalp

  • Deep conchal bowl

Address some or all of these problems in the planning and execution of the operation to correct the abnormality.

Auricular anatomy in children varies only slightly from that in adults. By the third year, 85% of ear growth and development occurs, and little growth occurs after 10 years. The ear's height may increase gradually into adulthood but its distance from the scalp changes little after 10 years. Because of this, setback otoplasty can safely be performed on children as young as 5-6 years.


Most parents, while emotionally distressed when their baby is born with a portion of the external auricle missing or severely distorted, are unconcerned about protruding ears at birth. Patients tend to seek surgical opinion for protruding ear problems at two stages of life. Parents often seek medical advice for their children at the start of school because of the child's complaints of classmates' teasing. The jeer of "Dumbo" is difficult for a first grader. The second group of patients consists primarily of women in their twenties or early thirties. These patients also are embarrassed about their protruding ears.


For the child born without an external ear, the indications for surgical reconstruction are obvious. Parents are anxious to proceed as soon as possible to spare their child any embarrassment. Unlike cleft lip surgery, which is performed in the first few weeks of life, most experienced surgeons recommend waiting to do multistages at age 6-7 years. The more important question is not whether surgery is indicated, but which of the techniques for reconstruction is indicated for the individual. Even with microtia, the physiologic effects of an ear deformity are negligible. The aesthetic and psychological effects are significant.[6]

In the patient born with a prominent ear or deformity, the situation may be a little different. With the obtuse scaphoconchal angle and absent antihelical fold, distance from the helical rim varies. Many authorities believe the external ear should protrude no more than 2 cm from the surface of the helix to the mastoid scalp at the midpoint of the ear's length. This measurement is a guide and not an absolute rule. Much depends upon the patient's expectations as well as the surgeon's experience. Although congenital absence is almost always unilateral, patients with prominent ears usually require a bilateral operation.

Children with protruding ears generally do well when operated on as early as age 5-6 years. A study from the Medical College of Wisconsin presented a series of 12 patients in whom otoplasty was performed before the age of 4 years with good results.[7, 8] Taunts from schoolmates begin at this time. Parents, not realizing how cruel kindergarten children can be, are often oblivious to this ridicule. Young girls reveal much less of this mental anguish because they are able to wear their hair long and cover their ears. They never wear a ponytail, lest a peer discovers their ears stick out.

In this author's practice, a common indication for setback otoplasty is the approximately 20-year-old woman who is getting married and now wants to wear her hair in an upswept fashion. Boys do not have that option. Because of a genetic predisposition to protruding ears, some parents find that seeking plastic surgical consultation for their children is difficult. To admit his or her child is flawed, the parent must admit he or she is flawed.

Relevant Anatomy

Nerve supply of the external ear

See the list below:

  • Great auricular nerve (C2, C3) - Lower half of ear

  • Auriculotemporal nerve (from mandibular brand of trigeminal) - Tragus, anterior/superior portions of auricle

  • Lesser occipital nerve (C2, C3) - Posterior/superior aspect of ear

  • Auricular branch of vagus nerve (Arnold nerve) - Concha and posterior auditory canal

Anatomy of the normal ear

See the list below:

  • Width of ear equals approximately 55% of length

  • Helix-to-mastoid distance - Upper third equals 10-12 mm; middle third equals 16-18 mm; lower third equals 20-22 mm

  • Sides should be within 3 mm of each other

  • Axis of ear is parallel to profile of nose

The ear can be difficult to reproduce surgically because only a thin layer of skin covers the cartilaginous structure.[9] This cartilaginous structure is attached to the temporal bone medially by several minor intrinsic muscles. A looser attachment of skin is found upon the posterior aspect of the auricle than the anterior aspect of the auricle. The vascular supply comes from the superficial temporal and posterior auricular vessels. Corresponding veins drain the ear.

A study by Oliveira et al stated that a natural plica can be found at the anatomic base of the antihelix, with the creation of this plica being an important part of antihelix reconstruction in patients with protruding ears.[10]

Prominent or protruding ears

See the list below:

  • Absent antihelical fold

  • Increased scaphoconchal angle

  • Deep conchal bowl

  • Increased distance from helical rim to scalp

  • Flattening of superior crus

  • Normal helical length

Cup ear deformity (lop-ear, constricted ear)

See the list below:

  • Flattening of antihelix

  • Widening of concha

  • Overhang of helix

  • Compression of scapha and fossa triangularis

  • Indistinct antihelix and crura

  • Shortened length of helix

  • Ear appears small, but no difference in size


See the list below:

  • Absence of retroauricular sulcus, causing the superior pole of ear to appear buried

  • Sharply curved antihelical crus

  • No foreshortening of auricle

Stahl ear

See the list below:

  • Presence of third crus

  • Flat antihelix

  • Malformed scaphoid fossa


Contraindications for treatment of prominent ears include the following:

  • Unreasonable expectations from either patient or family

  • Child younger than 5 years

  • Patient who is unable to tolerate postoperative wound care, including a protective bandage head wrap

  • Patient who opposes the operation despite his or her parents' wishes to proceed



Laboratory Studies

See the list below:

  • No specific laboratory studies are necessary. Most children who are having a setback otoplasty do not need an auditory acuity screening test.

Imaging Studies

See the list below:

  • No imaging studies are needed.

Diagnostic Procedures

See the list below:

  • No routine diagnostic tests are needed.

Histologic Findings

Specimens are never sent to the laboratory for histologic evaluation.



Medical Therapy

Historically, prominent or protruding ears have been treated surgically. However, nonsurgical techniques have emerged to treat neonates immediately after delivery.[2] The posterior helical rim is taped to the posterior retroauricular region with surgical tape. Tubular elastic net bandage or some type of ear wrap is used for reinforcement. To achieve the desired result, such techniques must begin in the first few weeks of life and take several weeks or months of constant and vigilant therapy.

A literature review by Feijen et al found that in nonoperative treatment of congenital ear anomalies (via ear molding), prominent ears have proven to be the most difficult to correct. Among nine ear anomalies, prominent ear had the lowest rate of satisfactory improvement (80.4%), with the next lowest being for constricted ears (93.4%). The report stated that the low rate for prominent ears “could be attributable to them being overlooked, an unnoticed conchal crus, or genetic predisposition.” The literature indicated that genetic predisposition may be the culprit, owing to a finding of symmetrical outcomes when bilateral prominence has been treated. Also with regard to nonsurgical correction, prominent ears had the highest recurrence rate among the anomalies studied.[11]

A protruding ear tends to become more apparent as the child ages, particularly in the neonatal period. Matsuo believes most prominent ear deformities are acquired and recommends careful positioning of babies in their cribs to keep the auricles from folding anteriorly.[2] One preventive method is to lay babies in a prone position.

Medications are listed below.

Epinephrine (Adrenalin, Bronitin, EpiPen) is a sympathomimetic catecholamine that acts as vasoconstrictor on alpha-adrenergic receptors in capillaries and decreases permeability of dilated capillaries to plasma. This vasoconstrictive action reduces absorption of local anesthetic, prolonging duration of action and decreasing risk of anesthetic's toxicity. Vasoconstrictive action also causes hemostasis in small vessels, relaxes smooth muscle of bronchioles, stomach, intestine, pregnant uterus, and urinary bladder wall. Use to prolong anesthetic effect and provide hemostasis. IM/SC administration has rapid onset and short duration of action, deteriorates rapidly on exposure to air or light, turning pink from oxidation to adrenochrome and brown from the formation of melanin. Replace solutions that show evidence of discoloration.

Adult dosing of epinephrine is 1:500,000-1:50,000 mixed with local anesthetic. Pediatric dosing has not been established.

Triamcinolone (Aristopan Intra-Articular, Aristopan Intralesional, Aristocort Intralesional) is an intermediate-acting glucocorticoid with essentially no mineralocorticoid activity. It causes decreased inflammation through enzyme induction and decreased immune response by reducing activity and volume of lymphatic system. Use to decrease inflammation and increase immunosuppression. Diacetate and acetonide salts for injection have variable onset and duration of action, depending on whether they are injected into an intra-articular space, a muscle, or on the blood supply to that muscle. It may be administered IM, intra-articularly, intrasynovially, intralesionally, sublesionally, or by soft-tissue injection.

Diacetate suspension is slightly soluble, providing a prompt onset of action and a longer duration of action of 1-2 wk. Triamcinolone acetonide is relatively insoluble and slowly absorbed. Extended duration of action lasts for several weeks. Triamcinolone hexacetonide is relatively insoluble, absorbed slowly, and has prolonged action of 3-4 wk. Adult dosing of triamcinolone acetonide is 2.5-15 mg intra-articularly, not to exceed 1 mg intralesionally prn. Adult dosing of triamcinolone diacetate is 2-40 mg intra-articularly, intrasynovially, or intralesionally q1-8wk. Adult dosing of triamcinolone hexacetonide is 2-20 mg intra-articularly q3-4wk prn, not to exceed 0.5 mg intralesionally per square inch of skin.

Bupivacaine hydrochloride (Marcaine) is a long-acting local anesthetic that can be used with or without epinephrine (as bitartrate) 1:200,000 to induce local or regional anesthesia or analgesia for surgery, oral surgery procedures, diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, and obstetric procedures. It has a pKA of 8.1, similar to lidocaine at 7.86. It possesses a greater degree of lipid solubility and is protein bound to greater extent than lidocaine. Local anesthetics block generation and conduction of nerve impulses, presumably by increasing the threshold for electrical excitation in nerve, by slowing propagation of nerve impulse, and reducing rate of rise of action potential. In general, progression of anesthesia is related to diameter, myelination, and conduction velocity of affected nerve fibers.

Clinically, the order of loss of nerve function is as follows: (1) pain, (2) temperature, (3) touch, (4) proprioception, and (5) skeletal muscle tone. Bupivacaine hydrochloride’s onset of action is rapid and it anesthetic effects long–lasting. Its anesthetic effects are significantly longer than other commonly used local agents. In adults, the usual dose for local infiltration is 0.25% bupivacaine; it may be repeated once q3h, although its long-acting nature usually makes a single dose sufficient. Doses up to 225 mg with epinephrine 1:200,000 and up to 175 mg without epinephrine are most used. In clinical studies to date, total daily doses up to 400 mg have been reported, but, until further experience is gained, this dose is not to be exceeded in 24 h. Pediatric dosing is not established.

Surgical Therapy

Many techniques exist to treat prominent or protruding ears, but no standard technique exists. Most surgeons use at least one, but certainly not all, of the techniques listed below.

Skin excision

Excision is perhaps the original treatment for protruding ears and is now included in most operations that involve a posterior auricular approach. Commonly, a crescent of 3-5 mm of skin is excised in the posterior auricular incision. The incision should not be made in the posterior sulcus but slightly higher onto the surface of the external auricle, with the incision extending almost pole to pole.

Scoring the cartilage

Stenstrom and Davis have widened the popularity of this technique. Anterior perichondral scoring in the area of the absent antihelical fold allows the cartilage to bend away from the incised or abraded side to create the fold. Many different techniques and tools are available to score the anterior cartilage. Most surgeons do not use this technique alone to achieve the desired result. A study by Erol (from Turkey) advocates use of exclusively the anterior approach for both scoring of the cartilage and placement of horizontal buried mattress sutures.[12]

Luckett technique

This technique of cutting cartilage has fallen out of favor because of the sharp antihelical fold it creates but is mentioned for historical significance. The Luckett procedure consists of excising a crescent of medial skin and cartilage to restore the antihelical fold. Plastic surgeons have modified this technique to create a smoother antihelical fold.

Radial placed mattress sutures

Sutures, placed posteriorly, are probably the most common method used by most surgeons. They result in a more accurate and natural fold at the scaphoconchal angle. All 5 sutures are placed before tying and tightening, providing the operator with a great deal of control to achieve the desired degree of angulation and setback. Sutures should go through the full thickness of cartilage to include the anterior perichondrium.

Conchomastoid sutures

These were popularized by Furnas.[13, 14] He espoused mattress sutures from conchal cartilage to mastoid fascia, from scaphoid fossa to temporal fascia, from scapha to concha, and from the earlobe to the sternocleidomastoid muscle insertion to obtain a satisfactory result for setback otoplasty.

Excision of conchal cartilage

Bauer and associates from Chicago comment that many surgeons fail to recognize conchal hypertrophy as one of the leading causes of the prominent ear deformity.[15] The excision of conchal cartilage is a common part of this author's surgical plan and treatment.

Incisionless and sutureless methods

Authors have elaborated on techniques in which the cartilage of the ear is split without sutures[3] and the incisionless otoplasty technique.[4]


A literature review by Leclère et al found a promising success rate for laser-assisted cartilage reshaping of protruding ears. The seven clinical studies used in the report addressed results from three different wavelengths: 1064 nm (Nd:YAG); 10,600 nm (CO2); and 1540 nm (Er:Glass).[16]

Other techniques

A retrospective study by Orabona et al found that patients with protruding ears who underwent the Mustardé surgical approach, in which mattress sutures are employed to create a new antihelical fold, had a higher recurrence rate than did those who were treated with combined Congchet/Furnas surgery, involving scoring of the anterior cartilage and the use of conchomastoid mattress sutures. However, the incidence of wound infections and hematomas was similar between the two groups.[17]

Hendrickx et al described an otoplasty technique for prominent ears in which a posterior approach is used to excise partial-thickness cartilage wedges (via microchondrectomies) in a “Wi-Fi symbol” pattern, with Mustardé sutures employed as well. No major complications occurred among 200 bilateral otoplasties, with complete recurrence of the deformity found in just 3 patients (1.5%).[18]

Preoperative Details

Patients are operated on under local anesthesia with or without IV or IM sedation; therefore, preoperative testing is not required. If the patient cannot tolerate the slight discomfort of local infiltration, he or she is unlikely to be cooperative with postoperative care (eg, bandages, night guards).

No scientific evidence indicates a need for preoperative audiologic evaluation unless a history of hearing deficits exists. Setback otoplasty does not improve or decrease auditory acuity.

With the exception of congenital atresia reconstruction or other procedures in which rib cartilage is harvested, almost all congenital ear reconstruction can be performed under local anesthesia with or without IV or IM sedation. This technique is successful for treatment of protruding ears, even with young patients. Though many adult and pediatric patients operated upon without an anesthetist have excellent compliance, a general anesthetic is a part of many surgeons’ practices.

Ask patients to shower thoroughly and shampoo their hair the morning of surgery. Although draping hair out of the surgical field is not necessary, men should get a short haircut just before surgery, and women should braid or secure their hair so that it is not a distraction in the operative field. Prophylactic antibiotics are not routinely given. A cerebellar ring headrest, most commonly employed by neurosurgical services, allows easy access to both ears and inspection of the completed result for symmetry. A small cotton plug placed into the patient's ear canal prevents blood from becoming an unpleasant irritant of the tympanic membrane.

For anesthesia, use 0.25% Marcaine with 1:200,000 epinephrine as a direct infiltration. This has the advantage of a 6-8 hour postoperative analgesic effect. Epinephrine can be diluted to 1:400,000, if desired, with similar hemostatic effects. Using a long-acting drug such as Marcaine, infiltrate both ears (usually 5-10 mL per ear), wash hands, prepare and drape the patient, and begin surgery. This allows the epinephrine to gain its optimal hemostatic effect (after about 7 min) without wasting operating room time.

Intraoperative Details

Many operative techniques are available to correct protruding ears. This means no single preferred way exists to perform the operation. Most surgeons combine several procedures. The key is to achieve symmetry and a natural-looking ear on each side. How to achieve that goal is a matter of scientific debate and discussion.

The entire operation can be performed using only a posterior incision, although some use a strictly anterior approach and others use both. The surgeon's preference and comfort level determine this. No matter which incisions and approaches are used, meticulous hemostasis and gentle handling of tissues must remain paramount. Even small hematomas can be disastrous. That stated, the author never uses drains. Close all skin incisions using a single layer of running 5-0 fast-absorbing plain gut suture.

Dissecting the skin off the cartilage up to and over the edge of the helical rim is an important element when using the posterior incision approach. Release of the skin envelope allows complete visualization of deformed cartilage without restraint from attachments to the skin. It allows a precise examination of the location of excessive conch resection as well as placement of sutures. Suture material is usually a 4-0 or 5-0 Mersilene on a small cutting needle, placed in a vertical mattress fashion.

To improve upon the natural folding of the scaphoconchal angle, score the anterior perichondral. This can be achieved even with a posterior incision by dissecting anteriorly at the root of the helix. Scoring can be performed using Georgiade otoraspers. This may be unnecessary if the physician is resecting hypertrophic conch cartilage.

Many patients are candidates for conchal resections. In the naturally aesthetic ear, the antihelical fold should lie closer to the head than the helical rim and should not obstruct the rim from a frontal view. This cannot be achieved without resecting some of the conchal cartilage. To determine the amount of excess cartilage to remove, place four 25-gauge hypodermic needles along the scaphoconchal angle with the points exposed posteriorly. Apply methylene blue to each tip and pull out the needles; the exact location of the angle can be seen on the posterior surface. Estimate a small wedge of resection, complete the excision, and remove additional cartilage as needed. This allows for a break in the cartilage and does not result in a sharp angle at the fold.

Postoperative Details

Surgery is performed on an outpatient basis; thus, patients go home the same afternoon. Patients usually are wrapped with a large turban-type dressing. Highlights of postoperative care in the author’s practice include the following:

  • Use fast-absorbing external skin sutures to eliminate the chance of disruption to the ear upon removal.

  • Drains are not used.

  • Use mineral oil-impregnated cotton as the direct dressing over the ear.

  • Place a minimal amount of the oil-cotton dressing in the posterior auricular sulcus.

  • After the turban is removed (4-5 d postoperatively), the patient wears a protective ear wrap (eg, loose-fitting ski headband) continuously except for showering. Use warm compresses 3 times per day for 2 weeks following turban removal.

  • Patient should wear the headband continuously for about a month and then at night for an additional 2 months as a safety precaution. No contact sports are allowed during these first 3 months.


Little postoperative follow-up care is required for patients who have undergone corrective surgery for protruding ears. The wrap-around turban bandage is removed at 4-5 days, and a protective headband is worn at all times for the next 2-3 weeks. Recommend that patients wear headbands at night for 2-3 months. See patients once or twice during the immediate postoperative period. Discourage aggressive contact sports for the first 3 months following surgery.

Take follow-up photographs at 4-6 months, at which point any relapse would begin to appear. At this time, patients occasionally complain about suture abscess (because of Mersilene) in the posterior auricular sulcus. Treatment usually can take place in the office by removing the offending suture. Warm compresses are also valuable. Patients with hypertrophic or keloid scar formation (a rare phenomenon) can be treated with Kenalog-40 injections.


See the list below:

  • Perhaps the most frequent complication of setback otoplasty is an unhappy patient with unrealistic expectations. As in all elective procedures, minimize this by lengthy discussions with the patient, parents, and significant other to ensure that all parties clearly understand what to expect.

  • Relapse of the protrusion is another complication unique to this operation. Relapse is not commonly observed in suture-style otoplasty but can occur if sutures break. It usually is observed within the first 6 months postoperatively. Other causes of recurrence include insufficient anterior scoring of cartilage, improper suture placement, poor postoperative compliance, and normal ear growth.

  • Overcorrection, resulting in an appearance of pinned-back, flat ears, can occur with either anterior scoring or posterior suturing techniques.

  • Distortion of the meatus may occur following conchomastoid suturing.

  • Patient may experience "telephone ear," a persistent prominence of the upper and lower poles away from the skull. This can be caused by overresection of the central portion of conchal cartilage, overresection of skin from the posterior surface of the concha, or overcorrection of the central portion of the antihelical fold.

  • "Reverse telephone ear," a prominence of the middle pole, is caused by inadequate correction of conchal excess or overcorrection of upper and lower poles of the helix and antihelix.

  • Another complication is obliteration of the postauricular sulcus because of excessive skin resection.

  • Sharp antihelical fold deformity is observed more often with anterior scoring in an effort to weaken cartilage without using sutures.

  • Hematoma, infection, and abnormal scarring also are complications.[9] A hematoma can have disastrous implications on ear reconstruction. Use meticulous care in drying the surgical field to avoid this complication, if possible. Once present, the wound must often be re-opened to allow for proper drainage and relief of the tension and pressure created by the hematoma. Theoretically, one can also use a compression dressing to prevent a re-occurrence of the hematoma. For instructions on the creation of a compression dressing, see Clinical Procedures article Drainage, Auricular Hematoma.

  • Infection often first manifests through local erythema, edema, and subtle fluctuance or drainage. The ear should be frequently scrutinized for signs of infection or vascular compromise. When an infection is suspected, the ear should first be cultured and empiric antibiotic therapy started. Systemic antibiotic therapy is necessary, often in addition to the use of an irrigation drain with continuous antibiotic drip irrigation.

  • The ear can also form scar tissue in an abnormal manner, creating a less-than-ideal appearance. The author recommends waiting at least 6 months before considering a revision of the ear to allow for the formation of scar tissue and a decrease in inflammation. The healing process can take some time; often, time can be a surgeon's best friend.

  • The use of Mersilene or other permanent sutures may result in extrusion (also known as “spitting of sutures”), which can be bothersome to the patient.

Outcome and Prognosis

As the ear withstands trauma well, patients typically do well after surgery. For setback otoplasty, outcome depends upon expectation. If the patient is well informed, he or she has a better outcome because it matches expectations.

Examples of preoperative and postoperative otoplasty are shown in the images below.

Preoperative otoplasty. Preoperative otoplasty.
Two years after otoplasty. Two years after otoplasty.
Preoperative otoplasty. Preoperative otoplasty.
Two years after otoplasty. Two years after otoplasty.

Future and Controversies

Future treatment of congenital ear deformities probably lies in 2 arenas. Diagnosis and surgery in utero have already been investigated with cleft lip and palate and neural tube abnormalities. Soon, other abnormalities of the head and neck, such as ear atresia, will probably at least be recognized before birth. With early diagnosis comes the hope of in utero correction.

As discussed, nonsurgical techniques emerging from Japan have been used to treat auricular deformities with nothing more than tape and head bands.[2] Whether this will become the standard of care for the protruding ear in the 21st century is difficult to predict. As physicians advance toward minimally invasive surgery, the assumption is that parents who become aware of this nonsurgical option will choose this procedure. Patient and parent compliance is an entirely different issue.

The second area, and one that is currently occurring, is the advent of osseous integrated implants for reconstruction. As these devices become the criterion standard for dental reconstruction, their use in craniofacial reconstruction has grown. Devices and prostheses are available for surgically resected ears in the treatment of cancers. Similar implantation devices are likely to replace the vastly complex and multistaged operations currently considered state-of-the-art for the congenitally absent ear.

Lastly, advances are being made in gene therapy and tissue generation. In these fields, the reconstructive surgeon is limited only by his or her imagination. Cartilage frameworks someday may be grown in a laboratory and then implanted into an undermined skin pocket to recreate an atretic ear.

Medicolegal pitfalls

Medicolegal pitfalls associated with congenital ear deformities are similar to those found in other areas of surgery. Of particular concern to the plastic surgeon is patient satisfaction. A well-informed patient with realistic expectations of the end result is less likely to be dissatisfied with the outcome. Always address the issue of scarring with the patient, as well as the possible success or failure of cartilage grafts that may be used during surgery.