Ear Surgery Recovery & Risks
Reviewed by Darrick E. Antell, MD & Scott R. Miller, MD, FACS
The speed and ease of ear surgery recovery often depends on the age of the person undergoing the procedure. Ear surgery (otoplasty), unlike most other plastic surgery procedures, is often performed on younger children who may have difficulty fully complying with some of the more stringent postoperative instructions. Reconstructive ear surgeries may involve longer recovery times than cosmetic otoplasty procedures.
Ear Surgery Recovery: Children and Adults
Adults who undergo ear surgery are typically able to return to their normal actives within three days of their procedure. By contrast, young children are often placed on restricted activity for at least a week. This includes avoiding any contact sports or rough play that can impede healing.
A golden rule of otoplasty recovery is that your ears should not be bent for at least one month.
Regardless of your age, your head is usually wrapped in a thick turban-like bandage immediately following your ear pinning surgery. This will protect your ears and foster the healing process.
Managing Pain and Swelling After Otoplasty
Some discomfort is to be expected after ear surgery and is usually managed with prescription or over-the-counter pain medications. Your surgeon will provide clear instruction on what you — or your child — can safely take to relieve any discomfort after otoplasty. Certain medications may increase your risk of bleeding and should be avoided during your ear surgery recovery. Headaches are also possible after ear surgery.
You may experience some swelling, which can be managed by keeping your head elevated. In most cases, this swelling abates within one week. Some people have reported itching or sensory changes along the incision line, but these changes are usually temporary.
You will likely be asked to return to your surgeon’s office within a few days so that he or she can remove the thick bandage and replace it with a lighter one that resembles a headband. Any stitches will dissolve or be removed within one week of your ear surgery.
The full cosmetic results of ear surgery are evident within 10 to 20 days, depending on the extent of the procedure and how well you adhere to your postoperative instructions.
Weighing the Risks of Surgery
All surgeries have their share of benefits and risks, and ear surgery (otoplasty) is no exception. The good news is that serious complications following otoplasty are rare. Many ear surgery risks can be prevented by carefully following your surgeon’s pre- and postoperative instructions. If the ear surgery is performed on a child, parents must take special precautions to make sure that the child follows the doctor’s orders.
Among children, failure to avoid strenuous activities after ear surgery can result in the loosening of sutures. If this occurs, the ear may return to its pre-surgery shape.
Regardless of age, some ear surgery risks include:
- Anesthesia complications
- Infection of the cartilage
- Numbness or sensory changes
- Blood clot in the ear (can usually be removed with a needle)
- Hearing loss
- Poor wound healing
- Pigment changes
- Dissatisfaction with the results
Many of these risks can be prevented. For example, taking your antibiotics as directed for as long as directed can help lower your chances of developing an infection after ear surgery. If you smoke, quitting smoking before your ear surgery can also lower your risk of infection, as well as reduce your odds of poor wound healing.
After surgery, your surgeon will likely request that you wear a light protective head bandage for 10 to 14 days. Avoiding over-the-head shirts is also recommended; choose zip-up or button-up shirts instead. Protecting your ears after surgery can also help stave off any complications resulting from accidental injury to the ears. This is an especially important part of ear surgery recovery among children.
When ear surgery is performed on children aged of 6 to 10, the ear cartilage is less stiff and more pliable, which may decrease any potential risks and/or complications.
Choose a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon
The best way to ensure a smooth ear surgery recovery is to choose a board-certified plastic surgeon and to follow his or her instructions carefully. This includes being aware of any and all ear surgery risks, including infection.
About the Reviewer of This Article
Darrick E. Antell, MD, is an educational spokesperson for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. He is a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon who has been in private practice for more than 20 years in New York City. Dr. Antell is a member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. He is also a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. Dr. Antell received his general surgery training at Stanford University Medical Center and his specialty training in plastic/reconstructive surgery at the New York Hospital/Cornell Medical Center and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.