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Your guide to ear reshaping (Otoplasty)

Cosmetic surgeon with patient

Ear reshaping (Otoplasty) is a cosmetic procedure that is carried out mainly during childhood but can undertaken for both men and women of any age.

The aim of this surgery is to improve the appearance by making protruding ears look as balanced and matched as possible.  While the procedure can make the ears appear less prominent, it is not always possible to achieve perfect symmetry. In 5% of all procedures, the ears will continue to protrude.

At your first consultation, the cosmetic surgeon should ask you about your expectations and what exactly you want to achieve. Your surgeon has a duty to carefully explain the limitations and any potential complications of ear reshaping surgery.

Ear reshaping surgery is usually a safe process but, as with all types of surgery, there is a slight but still potential risk of complications, such as:

  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Blood clotting
  • Scarring
  • Bruising

Most treatments are carried out by competent and professional surgeons without complications. A doctor who practices cosmetic surgery should have undertaken qualified training and is required to be on the Specialist Register in Plastic Surgery at the General Medical Council. These rules do not apply to doctors who registered with the Council before 2002.

Permanent ear deformity

Poor outcomes in ear are usually due to  a lack of skill on the part of the surgeon. Patients who experience a poor cosmetic outcome may have suffered recurring pain and permanent disfigurement. They may require further surgical procedures as a result.

The long term consequences of negligent treatment can also have a considerable impact upon the patient’s quality of life, psychological wellbeing and ability to socialise.

Your Legal Friend has many years of clinical negligence experience including cases for clients who have suffered disfiguring injuries caused by cosmetic procedures that have gone wrong.

We can help you make your case heard and obtain compensation to ensure the financial needs of further remedial treatment, support and counselling will be fully met.

Stats and facts...

  • Ear reshaping surgery is one of the top ten cosmetic procedures carried out in the UK.
  • 11% of male cosmetic procedures in 2014 were for ear reshaping surgery.
  • 1% of female cosmetic procedures in 2014 were for ear reshaping surgery.         (British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons – BAAPS)

What exactly happens in ear shaping surgery?

Reshaping the ears involves remodelling the cartilage into a less protruding shape.

The two main techniques for correcting protruding ears are:

  • Otoplasty - where the cartilage is remodelled to create the missing folds and the ear is repositioned closer to the head.

Procedure: A small cut is made behind the ear to expose the ear cartilage. Small pieces of cartilage are removed, repositioned and shaped.  The remaining structure is then scored and stitched into the desired shape and position, which is also called pinnaplasty.

  • Ear splinting – used to treat babies under six months old. The soft cartilage is remodelled using a splint to keep the ear in the new position.

          Procedure: Small splints (supports) are placed on the outer groove of the ear cartilage and kept in place          by small strips of tape. The baby's ear will be taped to the side of their head with a larger piece of tape.

Length of time: One to two hours depending on the requirements and complexity of each procedure.

Local anaesthetic:  Usually given to older children and adults, preventing any pain despite being awake. 

General anaesthetic:  Normally given to younger children, which means they are unconscious during the entire procedure.

After surgery - what can I expect?

After the procedure, the following normal reactions can be expected for up to three months:

  • Scarring - may be noticeable behind each ear but will fade over time to become almost invisible.
  • Mild bruising around the ears –for up to two weeks after surgery.
  • Numbness over the ears – for several weeks or, occasionally, longer.
  • Stiff ears – takes several months to become flexible again.
  • Soreness – particularly noticeable at night, but rarely lasts more than a few months.

Recovery timeline

  • First 24 hours - ears may feel either sore and tender or numb, and will appear larger and more swollen than normal.
  • 24 to 72 hours (three days) – most of the swelling begins to reduce.
  • 3 -7 days – recovery is sufficient for a return to work and normal activities. Head dressing is removed. A slight tingling sensation may persist for a few weeks.
  • 6 - 8 weeks - protective head band must still be worn at night to prevent the ears from accidentally being pulled or folded during sleep.  
  • Three months - swelling completely disappeared. It is still possible to tear or disrupt the repair with forceful pulling of the ear.


Most patients undergoing ear shaping surgery in the hands of a skilled and experienced surgeon achieve positive results followed by a rapid recovery.

After a poor and negligent procedure, any of the following complications can be immediately visible:

  • Ears still protrude slightly even after significant ear correction. Occurs in one in 20 cases, especially if the ears were very different before surgery.
  • Unusual shape or contour.
  • Ears not positioned close enough to the head.
  • Ears positioned too close to the head.
  • Scarring behind the ears - can be thicker than expected or become raised.
  • Inflammation of the ear cartilage - may need to be drained.
  • Blood clot forms in the skin of the ear - may need to be removed.
  • Infection - failing to notice that a patient is developing an infection and improper aftercare can lead to permanent ear deformity.

Long term complications include a recurring deformity. The ear correction has not maintained its shape and further surgery may be considered.

Incisionless otoplasty

Incisionless otoplasty is a new earshaping procedure that aims to improve the appearance of the ear without cutting into the skin. However there is evidence that the safety and long-term quality of the procedure may not be of a sufficient standard.

The procedure involves making the ear more flexible by scoring the surface of the ear cartilage with a needle. Permanent stitches are hidden under the skin behind the ear to hold the new shape or are used to fix the ear cartilage to a bone behind the ear.

A cosmetic surgeon should inform the patient of the uncertainty over the safety and adequacy of the procedure and provide them with clear written information.

The procedure should only be carried out under special arrangements.

Earshaping surgery – do I have a claim for negligence?

A cosmetic surgeon may have failed in their duty of care if you suffered an injury because:

  • You were not given the necessary  information about  the   benefits and limitations of surgery or
  • The surgeon failed to use reasonable care and skill when carrying out the  surgery and in undertaking  post-surgery treatment.

How Your Legal Friend can help you

As experienced clinical negligence specialists, we know you will feel devastated that your procedure went wrong. We know that you will also want to seek an explanation for why you received a standard of treatment that fell below expected professional standards.

Our task is to ensure your case is made in order to bring the surgeon to account for the harm and suffering caused. 

Your Legal Friend is committed to ensuring victims of clinical negligence obtain answers and receive appropriate compensation so that their future medical treatment and care needs are properly met.