Ear Surgery: A Way to Avoid to Avoid Bullying?

A 5-year-old boy from Salt Lake City, Utah, recently had surgery to make his ears stick out less, and parents from all around the world weighed in on the family’s decision, perhaps without knowing all of the facts about this particular type of operation.

The boy had been bullied because of his ears — his classmates had referred to them as “elf ears,” Inside Edition originally reported. His parents decided for their son to have the surgery because they feared the effects bullying could have on him.

These days, ear surgery (otoplasty) is becoming more popular, reported Pediatric surgeon, Dr David Staffenberg, of NYU Langone Medical Center.

One reason for the increase in popularity is that people have become more aware of the surgery, thanks, in part, to the Internet, Staffenberg stated. In the past, people might have thought the operation was rare and thus did not see it as a solution, he said. But parents shouldn’t feel conflicted if they choose this option for their child, he said.

Age matters

It isn’t entirely clear exactly how many otoplasty surgeries are administered every year. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons does track these surgical procedures, but not for children younger than teens.

Even though age six may sound really young for an elective surgery, parents can choose for their children to have the procedure when their kids are even younger.

Parents are increasingly addressing prominent ears in newborns, Staffenberg said. In the first few weeks of a baby’s life, the ear cartilage is more moldable, which means that surgeons can reshape the ears without the need for surgery, Staffenberg said.

However, there’s a short window for a nonsurgical option. After the first few weeks of infancy, the cartilage in the ear is no longer moldable — but it’s not stiff enough for surgery, either, Staffenberg said. For this reason, if they miss the short window, parents need to wait until the child is a bit older — until at least age 5 — to have surgery, he said.

Yet, holding off on surgery isn’t always the best idea, Staffenberg said. Patients who come in for an otoplasty when they’re adults have “already gone through a lifetime of bullying and teasing,” Staffenberg said. Some of those people have spent their lives covering their ears because they felt like they needed to hide their ears to avoid bullying.

Ear anatomy

One of the biggest misconceptions about ears that stick out is that they’re too big. In most instances, this is not the case at all. It’s just that the ear structure is turned outward, Staffenberg said. However ears don’t all stick out for the same reasons. Each person’s anatomy determines what type of ear surgery he or she needs, Staffenberg said.

For some patients, such as the boy in Utah, surgeons like Dr Zurek need to correct a small fold in the cartilage, known as the antihelix, that caused the ears to turn out more than usual, Staffenberg said.

For other individuals, the ears are rotated forward more. In these cases, surgeons can remove some of the tissue behind the ear to make more room.

There are also some instances where parts of the ear are large, but these are not that common, Staffenberg said. In these cases, surgery involves removing some of the cartilage.