Over 30,000 Americans underwent an otoplasty procedure in 2018. While hearing loss and hearing aids are generally more prevalent in older populations, ear anomalies relating to ear size and ear shape can affect children and adults. Ears naturally come in a variety of shapes, and the shape of your ears can also be influenced by how they sit on the side of the head. The ear shape, ear prominence, and earlobe shape can significantly influence overall appearance. Fortunately both surgical corrections and non-surgical treatments exist to alter the shape of your ears and create the most desirable aesthetic.
What is the anatomy of the ear and earlobe?
The ear can be considered in three sections: the external ear (the part we see), the middle ear (where the eardrum is), and the internal ear (everything behind the eardrum). The external ear is composed of cartilage and tissue. The helix, scapha, and triangular fossa compose the upper outer ear. The earlobe is called the auricular lobule and does not contain any cartilage (this is why it’s soft and lacks structure). The earlobe receives a large supply of blood and nerve endings making it a potentially sensitive area of the body for some individuals.
The Anatomy of the Ear
Down the ear canal (or the external acoustic meatus) exists the middle ear. The middle ear consists of the tympanic membrane (ear drum) and three bones, the malleus, incus, and stapes.
The inner ear contains both auditory (sound) and equilibrium (balance) centers. The semicircular canals and the cochlea assist in these functions. The Eustachian tubes sit behind the eardrum and funnel down into the nasopharynx area (the back of the throat/nasal cavity). Both the external ear and internal ear contribute to processing sound waves for hearing.
What causes cosmetic variations in the ears and earlobes?
Ear size and ear shape are primarily determined by genetics. It is important to consider the size and shape of the head in addition to hair style when determining ear appearance as the overall aesthetic of the upper body can be influenced by multiple factors. As we age, research shows natural changes in collagen typically cause the ear circumference to become larger. Additionally, some individuals find their earlobes may begin to sag or lose previous tone.
What are the main cosmetic concerns related to the ear and earlobe?
Protruding Ears or prominent ears are mostly a matter of personal aesthetic. Generally, most individuals find a sleeker, streamlined profile is more desirable. Protruding or prominent ears typically create the false appearance of larger ear size. Head shape and hairstyle can influence perception of ear protrusion.
Given the earlobes naturally lack collagen, they are prone to alterations to shape from lifestyle factors (like jewelry) and aging.
- Stretched Earlobes: Can occur with chronic use of heavy earrings or the deliberate practice of progressive gauge use.
- Sagging Earlobes: Can result from age and also the repeated use of heavy jewelry. Over time heavy earrings will cause the soft tissue of the earlobe to progressively lose shape and tone.
- Split Earlobes: Occur when injuries to the ear cause a complete tear through the lobe. This can occur from a traumatic injury or be a consequence of earring or gauge use.
Who may wish to undergo cosmetic ear or earlobe procedures?
Both men and women may wish to consider an ear or earlobe cosmetic procedure if they are dissatisfied with appearance, have experienced an injury, or wish to correct/restore shape after earring or gauge use.
Surgeries to correct ear protrusion and prominence will allow patients to fundamentally alter their overall appearance by creating a more streamlined profile. Procedures to address earlobe concerns are generally less invasive and can be performed in a doctor’s office setting.
How can someone correct protruding ears?
Protruding or prominent ears can be addressed by three different procedures depending on severity of condition and the patient age. Ear surgery / Otoplasty is a surgical procedure to excise excessive tissue and move ears closer to the skull. earFold procedures involve placement of a prosthetic to bend ears into desired shape. Incisionless Fritsch Otoplasty is a good choice for older children and teens and only involves the use of sutures. Learn more about treatment options in our deep dive into Ear Pinning Solutions.
How can someone correct earlobe damage?
Earlobe damage can be addressed through a few different procedures depending on the concern. A consultation with a certified provider can determine which procedure is most appropriate.
- For Split Earlobes: An earlobe surgery to repair the damage by resuturing the split pieces together is a permanent restorative choice.
You can learn more about treatment options in our guide to Earlobe Restoration Solutions.
Ear anatomy and function is complex. Fortunately, correcting the appearance of your ears is significantly more simple. A consultation with a plastic surgeon can determine which surgical or non-surgical treatment is most appropriate to create or restore your perfect ear shape, size, and lobe appearance.
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- American Society of Plastic Surgeons 2018 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report plasticsurgery.org; 2019-01-01
- R Tan, V Osman, G Tan Ear size as a predictor of chronological age PubMed.gov; 1997-09-01
- Better Health Channel Otoplasty (external ear surgery)
- Alexander Berghaus Protruding ears - cosmetic surgery with a sense of proportion PubMed.gov; 2016-09-01
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