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Ears That Stick Out: Causes and Treatments

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Causes and Solutions for Protruding Ears

We often underestimate the influence our physical features have on our self-perception and the way others perceive us. One such attribute is our ears. Specifically, protruding ears can significantly influence how we see ourselves and interact with the world. Protruding ears is a condition where the ears stick out more than 2 cm from the side of the head. It’s a common aesthetic concern that affects both children and adults.

Understanding the anatomy of the ear can help you better understand why some ears protrude. The human ear is composed of cartilage and skin. The cartilage gives the ear its shape, while the skin covers the cartilage. The angle at which the cartilage connects to the head can cause the ear to stick out. It’s important to remember that protruding ears are typically a harmless condition, but it can lead to feelings of self-consciousness and social discomfort.

Protruding ears can be a sensitive subject, especially for children who may face teasing or bullying. But remember, you’re not alone in this. This blog will help you understand the causes of protruding ears, why ears stick out, the psychological impact, and the modern treatments available to correct protruding ears.

Chester Consultant Plastic Surgeon Anca Breahna performs pinnaplasty and split earlobe correction to help patients achieve their aesthetic goals.

What Causes Protruding Ears?

Before discussing the causes of protruding ears, it’s essential to understand that they aren’t indicative of any underlying health issues. The condition is purely cosmetic, and it’s usually apparent at birth. So, what causes protruding ears? The answer lies in the structure and development of the ears.

During foetal development, the ears start forming around the sixth week of pregnancy. By the third trimester, the ears are almost fully formed. However, if during this developmental process, the cartilage doesn’t fold properly, it can result in protruding ears. This improper folding of the ear cartilage is called an underdeveloped antihelical fold.

Another common cause of protruding ears is a deep conchal bowl—the area that houses the ear canal. If the conchal bowl is too deep, it can push the ear away from the head, causing the ears to stick out. It’s worth noting that these conditions can occur either separately or simultaneously.

Why Do Ears Stick Out?

You might wonder, “Why do ears stick out?” The primary reason is genetic factors. Just as you inherit your eye colour, hair texture, or height from your parents, you can also inherit protruding ears. If either of your parents has protruding ears, there’s a higher likelihood you’ll have them too. This genetic trait follows an autosomal dominant pattern, meaning if one parent has the trait, there’s a 50% chance their child will inherit it.

Environmental factors can also play a role in why ears stick out. For instance, constant pressure applied to the ears in infancy, such as tight swaddling, can cause the cartilage to deform and the ears to protrude. However, it’s important to note that these instances are rare.

Despite the genetic component, protruding ears can also occur randomly, without any family history. This phenomenon is called a spontaneous mutation and can occur in any gene at any time.

The Psychology behind Protruding Ears and Self-confidence

The psychological impact of protruding ears should not be underestimated. In a society that places a high value on appearance, having ears that stick out can impact self-confidence and self-esteem, especially in children. They may become the subject of ridicule or bullying, leading to feelings of embarrassment and social withdrawal.

Adults with protruding ears may also struggle with self-image issues. They may feel self-conscious about their appearance, leading to a decrease in self-esteem and confidence. This can affect their personal and professional relationships, as well as their overall quality of life.

But it’s essential to remember that every individual is unique, and physical differences contribute to that uniqueness. Embracing these differences can be empowering. However, if protruding ears cause significant distress, seeking treatment can improve psychological well-being.

Modern Treatments for Protruding Ears

In the past, protruding ears were often left untreated due to lack of knowledge or fear of invasive procedures. But the advancement of medical science and technology has brought forth several effective treatments to correct protruding ears. These treatments range from minimally invasive procedures to surgical interventions.

Surgery for Ears that Stick Out

One of the most common procedures to correct protruding ears is otoplasty, also known as ear pinning surgery. This surgical procedure involves reshaping the cartilage to create the missing folds and bring the ears closer to the head. It’s typically performed under local or general anaesthesia and takes about two to three hours.

Otoplasty offers permanent results and significantly improves the appearance of the ears. However, like any surgical procedure, it comes with potential risks and complications, including infection, bleeding, and changes in skin sensation. Therefore, it’s crucial to discuss these risks with Anca before deciding on the procedure.

Non-Surgical Methods to Correct Protruding Ears

If you’re apprehensive about surgery, there are non-surgical methods available to correct protruding ears. These include ear moulding and splinting, which are often applied to newborns with protruding ears. The treatment uses soft, mouldable devices that are placed on the ears and held in place with a headband. Over time, these devices reshape the cartilage to achieve a more typical ear appearance.

Non-surgical treatments have the best results when initiated in the first weeks of life when the ear cartilage is still soft and malleable. However, these methods may also be effective in older children and adults, although the results may not be as significant.

Risks and Recovery from Protruding Ears Surgery

Like any surgical procedure, surgery for ears that stick out carries potential risks. These include infection, scarring, asymmetry, changes in skin sensation, and adverse reaction to anaesthesia. But these risks are relatively rare, and most patients recover without complications.

The recovery process varies from person to person but generally involves wearing a headband to protect the ears and support the new shape. Most people can return to their normal activities within a week, but it might take a few months for the swelling to completely subside and the final results to be visible.

Despite the potential risks, most patients report high satisfaction rates with their results, noticing a significant improvement in their ear appearance and self-confidence.

How to Choose a Specialist for Your Ear Correction Surgery

Choosing the right specialist for your ear correction surgery is crucial to ensure the best possible results. Look for a board-certified plastic surgeon with extensive experience in otoplasty. Check their credentials, patient reviews, and before-and-after photos to get a sense of their expertise.

It’s also important to have a thorough consultation with your chosen consultant plastic surgeon. Discuss your concerns, expectations, and the potential risks involved. A good consultant plastic surgeon will listen to your concerns, provide you with all the necessary information, and guide you in making the best decision for your circumstances.

Protruding ears can be a source of discomfort, but with the right information and treatments, you can overcome this challenge.

FAQs about Protruding Ears Causes and Treatment


What are protruding ears?

  • Protruding ears, often referred to as prominent ears, describe ears that extend more than the typical distance from the side of the head. This condition can be bilateral, affecting either ears, or unilateral, affecting just one ear. While it’s primarily a cosmetic concern, it can sometimes lead to psychological distress, especially in children due to teasing or self-consciousness.

What causes protruding ears?

  • The primary cause of protruding ears is genetics, meaning the trait can be passed down through families. The structure and shape of the ear cartilage play a significant role in determining the ear’s prominence. Additionally, certain medical conditions, injuries, or complications during foetal development can also lead to this condition.

At what age can protruding ears be noticed?

  • Protruding ears can be identified shortly after birth. The cartilage in a newborn’s ear is soft and malleable. As the child grows, the cartilage begins to harden, making the prominence of the ears more noticeable, especially by the age of 3 to 4.

Are protruding ears associated with any hearing problems?

  • Protruding ears are a cosmetic issue and do not have a direct impact on the inner ear’s functioning or hearing capabilities. However, any structural abnormalities inside the ear can affect hearing, so it’s essential to differentiate between external appearance and internal function.

What is otoplasty?

  • Otoplasty, commonly known as ear pinning surgery, is a surgical procedure aimed at correcting and reshaping the external ear. The goal is to bring the ears closer to the head, making them less prominent. The procedure can involve removing excess cartilage, reshaping the existing cartilage, or both.

At what age can otoplasty be performed?

  • Otoplasty can be performed once the ears have reached their full size, which is typically by the age of 5 or 6. Adults can also undergo the procedure if they wish to correct their prominent ears. The advantage of performing the surgery at a younger age is that the cartilage is more pliable, potentially leading to better results.

Are there non-surgical treatments for protruding ears?

  • Yes, there are non-surgical interventions, particularly for infants. One such method is ear moulding, which uses soft braces or moulds to reshape the ears. This technique is most effective when started within the first few weeks of life when the ear cartilage is still very soft and can be easily moulded.

How long is the recovery period after otoplasty?

  • The initial recovery period after otoplasty is a week, during which patients might experience some discomfort, swelling, and bruising. Full recovery, including the subsiding of all swelling, can take a few weeks. During this time, patients are often advised to wear a protective headband, especially at night, to safeguard the ears and support their new shape.

Are there risks associated with otoplasty?

  • Like any surgical procedure, otoplasty comes with potential risks. These can include infection, excessive scarring, asymmetry between the ears, and changes in skin sensation. It’s crucial to have a thorough consultation with a qualified surgeon to understand and mitigate these risks.

Can protruding ears return after treatment?

  • While rare, there’s a possibility that the ears can revert to their previous prominence after treatment. This can occur if the cartilage doesn’t heal or set in the desired shape or if there’s a post-surgical injury. Regular follow-ups with the plastic surgeon and adhering to post-operative care instructions can minimise this risk.

Further Reading about Procedures with Consultant Plastic Surgeon Anca Breahna

Medical References about Protruding Ears

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About Anca Breahna – Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Cheshire Cosmetic Surgery

Ms Anca Breahna, PhD, MSc, FEBOPRAS, FRCS (Plast) is a highly regarded Consultant Plastic Surgeon specialising in the field of Aesthetic and Reconstructive Plastic Surgery.

Anca performs a wide range of Hand Surgery & Skin Surgery and Aesthetic Breast, Body and Face Surgery,

Anca Breahna - Female Plastic Surgeon in Chester UK

As one of the very few female Plastic Surgeons in the region, she is able to offer that unique female perspective, with empathy, attention to detail and personalised care. It is Anca’s true dedication and commitment to her field, that sets her aside from her peers. Her extensive surgical training means that you are in safe hands. She is renowned for providing exceptional care, support and helping achieve realistic goals for her patients.

Anca Breahna’s surgical training has mainly been undertaken within the United Kingdom. She began a rigorous training programme in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery in 1999, after achieving her medical degree from the University of Bucharest. Miss Breahna attained her PhD degree at the same university in 2007 for her medical research. She then relocated to the UK and has worked Internationally to further extend her qualifications and training.

The team at Cheshire Cosmetic Surgery looks forward to meeting you and will treat you with respect, consideration, and empathy.

Your Next Steps

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Making The Most Of Your Consultation

  • Please arrive slightly early for your in-person consultation with Anca – Car parking is usually available on-site
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How to Book your Consultation with Anca Breahna – Plastic Surgeon

  • You can book your consultation with Anca by paying the £150 cosmetic consultation fee when you make your appointment. This fee covers further consultations about the same concern.

Contact Anca’s Team

Call Claire or Joedy on 03332 244111 to arrange your consultation or email us for more information.

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