Ear reconstruction is a form of surgery that can rebuild an ear damaged by trauma or cancer surgery, or misshapen or missing due to a congenital (present at birth) disorder. Along with surgery to rebuild or repair the ear, hearing rehabilitation with an otologist may be necessary.
Types of Ear Reconstruction Surgery
Microtia means tiny ear, and refers to an inborn condition where one or both of the outer ears are very small, malformed or absent. Microtia occurs about once in every 6,000 births. Some forms of these ear deformities are genetic and may occur with other congenital problems.
Surgery to repair microtia may include creating a new ear out of the person’s own tissue, such as rib cartilage, or building an artificial (prosthetic) ear.
Otoplasty is cosmetic surgery on the outer, visible parts of the ear. For example, ear pinning can surgically angle the ears closer to the head to make them less prominent.
Ear Defect Repair
Trauma or cancer surgery can result in tissue loss, requiring plastic surgery to restore the form and function of the outer ear.
Johns Hopkins Surgeons Use Woman’s Own Tissue to Rebuild Ear Lost to Cancer
In a series of six operations over 20 months, surgeons at Johns Hopkins, successfully rebuilt the entire ear and part of the skull of a woman with an aggressive skin cancer.
Ear Reconstruction Surgery: Procedure and Care
Ear reconstruction can take place in the surgeon’s office-based surgical facility, an outpatient surgery center or in a hospital.
Before the surgery, the surgeon will conduct a thorough history and examination, as well as hearing tests. The surgeon will also assess whether to use the person’s own (autologous) tissue, such as skin or cartilage, to reconstruct the ear or if a prosthetic is more likely to yield a better result.
Regardless of which materials are used, the surgeon will ensure the person is comfortable during the procedure by using anesthesia. General anesthesia causes a deep sleep during surgery, whereas a combination of sedative medications and local anesthesia allows the patient to remain awake but relaxed and pain-free throughout the procedure.
Recovery from Ear Reconstruction
The length of a person’s recovery depends on the extent of the reconstruction. In most cases, the person will leave the health care setting with soft dressings and bandages on the surgical site, and these stay in place for a few days.
Some mild discomfort is to be expected, and pain medications recommended or prescribed by the surgeon can help. Disruption of sleep patterns can affect those used to sleeping on their side, since this needs to be avoided for two or more weeks. Elastic headbands, the type worn by swimmers, can stabilize the surgical area while the incisions heal.
Facial plastic surgeons always seek to minimize the appearance of scars, working to hide incisions in the natural folds of the ear anatomy. Any visual scars will eventually heal and appear as thin lines that may be paler or darker than surrounding skin.
It is extremely important to follow the surgeon’s post-surgery instructions carefully, especially:
Avoid certain activities and environments.
Alert the surgery team immediately in the event of any problem or unexpected change, especially if there is severe pain in the surgical area.
Keep follow-up appointments.