For children or adults whose ears failed to properly develop at birth, living with an ear defect can be a source of great insecurity. Similarly, those whose ears are disfigured through injury or trauma can suffer self-esteem issues due to their ear appearance.
Ear reconstruction surgery can recreate a proportionate size and shape to the ear. Ear reconstruction is a very delicate procedure that requires detailed knowledge of facial plastic surgery, plastic surgery and/or otolaryngology (head and neck surgery).
The reconstructive surgery specialists at The University of Kansas Health System use their unique training and significant experience in ear reconstruction to achieve the best possible outcome.
What is ear reconstruction surgery?
Ear reconstruction surgery is a procedure designed to treat aesthetic defects in 1 or both ears. The surgery can correct damage or trauma sustained from an ear injury, restore a normal ear appearance after cancer removal surgery, or recreate the ear(s) in patients affected by microtia – a condition involving ear malformation that can be mild or severe.
Every ear reconstruction procedure must be tailored to accommodate the unique needs of the individual, so each reconstructive surgery uses different techniques depending on the nature of your specific features and appearance goals. All approaches to ear reconstruction require detailed knowledge and understanding of external as well as internal ear physiology to ensure an optimal cosmetic outcome.
Who can have ear reconstruction surgery?
Unlike ear pinning surgery, which is used to minimize the look of prominent ears, ear reconstruction can benefit individuals who wish to correct a partial or total ear defect. Candidates for surgery generally include those who:
- Are affected by malformation in 1 or both ears
- Are missing 1 or both external ears as a result of microtia
- Require ear reconstruction after cancer or tumor removal
- Seek to repair the ear following an injury or trauma
How does ear reconstruction work?
There are different approaches that can successfully recreate or restore a normal ear appearance. The best technique for your unique situation will depend on the details of your treatment plan. Generally, the surgery is performed using either autologous, prosthetic or synthetic reconstruction.
Autologous reconstruction involves using your own tissue to rebuild the ear structure. Cartilage from the ribcage is used to create a new framework for the ear shape, and subsequent techniques are used once the ear has healed to form the earlobe, adjust the shape and symmetry of the ear and elevate the ear to a natural projection away from the scalp.
Once completed, autologous ear reconstruction can typically provide a natural-looking and long-lasting result. Because this approach uses natural tissue rather than a synthetic prosthesis, the results can often tolerate more vigorous daily activities, such as playing sports.
Prosthetic reconstruction uses an artificial ear to mimic a natural ear appearance. A less invasive approach than autologous reconstruction, prosthetic reconstruction can be ideal for people who wish to avoid multistage reconstruction. Additionally, children under the age of 7 whose rib cartilage is not yet fully developed enough for an autologous procedure can benefit from this technique.
The prosthesis can look very realistic and restore a symmetrical appearance. Depending on your treatment goals, the prosthesis is usually attached with an adhesive or through magnetic fixation. Magnetic fixation involves a procedure in which implants are surgically inserted into the side of the skull (similar to a dental implant). These implants provide the fastening point for the prosthesis.
Synthetic ear reconstruction is a newer reconstruction technique. This highly effective method of recreating the ear(s) uses natural tissue grafts to cover a synthetic framework known as a MEDPOR® implant. The reconstructed ear is sutured to the side of the head and meticulously adjusted to match the size and projection of a natural ear. Synthetic reconstruction typically requires fewer stages than autologous reconstruction.
Benefits and risks of ear reconstruction surgery
Our skilled surgeons perform ear reconstruction surgery with the goal of achieving a natural ear appearance that exists in harmony with your surrounding facial features. Depending on which approach is used, you may require multiple procedures to achieve the best result.
While ear reconstruction surgery should not cause significant discomfort, there could be some atypical pain or sensitivity, which may be treated with prescription medication if necessary. Very unlikely complications of this procedure may include asymmetry, changes in sensitivity, hearing difficulties and infection.
What happens during ear reconstruction surgery?
Ear reconstruction surgery can vary in scope and intensity due to the specifics of the procedure, but generally begins with attaching any necessary grafts, cartilage or prostheses before shaping and sculpting the outer ear – including the earlobe, tragus and external canal. Tissue expansion may be used to create excess skin and tissue to cover the ear as needed.
Depending on the type of ear reconstruction performed, a series of surgeries may be required, especially if both ears need to be constructed. Surgeries are typically scheduled about 2-3 months apart.