What the Doctor didn't order
27 March 2019Surgery to correct stick-out ears and other ear deformities is the bread and butter of many a surgeon, but failure rates for this type of surgery are relatively high. Said to be the most common paediatric plastic surgery procedure, pinnaplasty (AKA otoplasty) for adult patients is big-business too, and because of the number of cases that go wrong these days, the correction of some of these “ear corrections” is one of the specialties of my own practice. So it will surprise many medical and non-medical folks that most common outer ear surgeries have been avoidable for a generation, using a simple ear splinting device called EarBuddies.
I developed the device for my first son almost thirty years ago, and the product has been available worldwide for more than 25 years, both to parents direct, through the NHS, and a number of eminent children’s hospitals worldwide. If Early Ear Correction is properly adopted, pinnaplasty should rightly become a rarity.
Many plastic surgeons, me included, make a good living out of altering appearance towards the “norm”. Certainly, some traditional Eastern values set great store by ears that stick out, on the grounds that they “catch” good luck. All over the world, it seems that the norm for lips, breasts, and bottoms has increased, quite literally, hugely, although I cannot foresee a time when ears which stick out, or are simply big, will become a Western wish. So can we stamp out ear teasing? Or the teasing that goes with any physical difference such as a big nose or a birthmark, for that matter. What even I see, as a social media dinosaur, currently doesn’t inspire much hope. I don’t have many answers, but I do know that, far too often, parents are wrongly reassured by health professionals that their newborn baby's ear deformity will fix itself or that a child will “grow into their ears”. Or sometimes that they should just be grateful that their little bundle has all the necessary parts.
It IS true that a newborn baby's ear can change shape in the first 48 hours of birth as it recovers from the squashing of being born. But if it were true that deformed ears spontaneously correct themselves after this time, no adult would have an ear deformity. So whatever you might be told, what IS true, but not at all new, is that most outer ear surgeries are wholly avoidable if treated early, as are the risks of general anaesthesia and surgery “gone wrong”, the expense of the surgery and the bullying that usually precedes the operation. There is, of course, a huge amount of new information for doctors, in particular, to keep up with these days and a slightly odd-looking ear in an otherwise normal baby might seem a trivial matter in the grand scheme of things. But the social impact of ear deformity is huge, and largely unrecognised, let alone the difficulties of wearing in-ear devices. It remains a challenge and a goal of mine to increase awareness so as to make needless ear correction surgery a thing of the past.
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