Protruding Ears and Ear Deformities – Should Teens and Adults Consider Ear Surgery – Otoplasty?

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No one is born perfect.  Unfortunately, some imperfections are more visible than others.  People with protruding ears or other ear deformities like Cup Ear often face childhoods full of teasing and teenage years filled with feelings of rejection.  If you faced this issue and are in your late teens or even adulthood, does it make sense to have your ears surgically corrected now?  Is repairing prominent or misshapen ears purely a matter of vanity?  Or are there social, psychological, and economic reasons that make otoplasty – ear surgery – a good idea?


Editor’s Note:  Dr. Brian Machida is one of the most highly experienced facial plastic surgeons in the US.  He has performed 4,000 or more facial plastic surgery procedures in his career.  He taught facial plastic surgery for years at USC’s Keck School of Medicine.   He currently serves as Medical Director of STC Plastic Surgery in Ontario, Inland Empire California.


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Timik123, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Social and Psychological Consequences of Ear Deformities

It would come as no surprise to anyone with protruding ears or misshapen ears that looking different often has real social consequences.  The AMA Journal of Ethics reports:

The intimate relationship between self-concept and appearance is also well documented, and the face is a major component of body image and self-worth. It affects how one is perceived and evaluated by others, guiding their impressions and behavior. Important decisions such as life partner and job selection are influenced by biases that depend partly on facial appearance.

Years of teasing, name-calling and lonely date nights can really affect the way people feel about themselves.   One measure of this is the improvement in self-confidence, self-esteem and overall quality of life reported by patients who have undergone otoplasty to correct misshapen or protruding ears.  The Journal of Craniofacial Surgery states:

Standard psychological measuring tools revealed that otoplasty patients experienced a better quality of life after surgery.  They reported improvement with friends, greater freedom from anxiety as well as improved self-confidence and self-esteem.

There’s more than one way otoplasty can provide a better quality of life.  It can remove a substantial disadvantage in the job market, essentially leveling the playing field.

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Timik123, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Economic Advantages for Correcting Misshapen and Protruding Ears

Nearly 50 years of studies reveal that people with less attractive than average facial features suffer substantial discrimination in the workplace.  As we reported in “The Facelift Price – Is it a Good Economic Investment?” economists Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle examined several studies and concluded that:

  • Men rated as good-looking made 5% more than their average-looking counterparts.
  • Men rated as “quite plain” or “homely” were paid 9% less than average.
  • Women saw a less extreme, but similar effect on their paychecks.

Ominously, business journal Forbes stated:

Unsurprisingly, the beauty bias transfers into the workplace, with scientific studies showing that less attractive individuals are more likely to get fired, even though they are also less likely to be hired in the first place.

Clearly, people rated as attractive had some real advantages on the job.  Having facial features considered unattractive produced a far greater disadvantage.  According to economist Daniel Hamermesh, writing in The New York Times, attractive people can earn up to $230,000 more over their lifetimes.   That makes the $5-6,000 cost of an otoplasty seem small in comparison.

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Timik123, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

A Novel and Effective Way to Cut College Costs with High Earnings Potential

Inc. Magazine quoted Kevin Hafen, CEO of Univia, who conducted a large survey and said in 2019:

Attractiveness bias can greatly impact career success, from the hiring process down to raises and future promotion.

But can young people afford an otoplasty procedure?  Rising college costs are a major concern for students and parents. For example, US News reported:

In-state tuition prices among public National Universities grew by 72% over the period from 2008 to 2021.

One way to afford otoplasty to avoid appearance discrimination is to be a smart education shopper. Payscale.com gathered salary information from 3.5 million people who graduated from 4,000 colleges and universities.  The US Department of Education College Scorecard publishes colleges’ Average Annual Cost of Attending.  This includes tuition after average financial aid plus living expenses for private colleges and the in-state tuition for public institutions.

A little research reveals some real Value Schools with relatively low tuition whose graduates earn high salaries.  Surprisingly, some of America’s top universities provide large financial aid awards based on need.  This can make them affordable for outstanding students with fewer resources. Other, more inclusive institutions also provide great value.  Note what this research revealed:

College or University    Average Cost of Attending          Early Salary        Mid-Career Salary

CUNY-Baruch College                    $  3,000                                             $59,200               $111,000

Stanford University                         $12,000                                             $81,800               $147,100

Univ. of California-San Diego       $13,000                                             $65,000               $128,900

UCLA                                                  $14,000                                             $62,600               $122,400

Univ. of California-Berkeley          $15,000                                             $72,600               $138,800

Georgia Tech                                    $15,000                                             $74,500               $137,300

Harvard University                          $16,000                                             $76,400               $147,700

M.I.T.                                                 $18,000                                             $88,300               $158,100

UMass-Lowell                                  $19,000                                             $60,000               $110,700

Of course, not everyone can get into Harvard, M.I.T. and Stanford.  But some state schools offer an outstanding education with high salary potential for much less than other institutions.  Value Schools are not always the most prestigious.  But smart education spending can get students into high quality programs while freeing up funds they can use to correct facial flaws that could hold them back.

How Otoplasty Can Correct Protruding Ears and Ear Deformities

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Before and After Otoplasty to correct protruding ears

The goal of an otoplasty procedure is to make your ears appear natural and relatively unnoticeable.  Your first step is to meet with a board-certified facial plastic or plastic surgeon.  Discuss your expectations. Explain why you want otoplasty and how you want your ears to look.  Your surgeon will examine your ears and determine the procedure he or she will use to accomplish your goals.

If you have protruding ears, your surgeon will make incisions on the back of your ears or inside the folds.  They can trim down excess conchal cartilage to change the angle of your ears in relation to your head.

If you suffer from cup ear, your surgeon can insert permanent stitches to straighten your ear to create a normal antihelical fold.  Those stitches won’t show after you heal.

If you have a prominent ear lobe, highly experienced surgeons can reduce bulk and change the direction of the interior cartilage, making it less noticeable.  Correcting a prominent ear lobe requires surgical “finesse.”  Some surgeons don’t address it well, but highly experienced facial plastic surgeons will.

CONTACT Dr. Machida Inland Empire, CA

Experience makes a difference in otoplasty

As Medscape, a physician’s website points out:

Essentially, all current otoplasties are effective in reducing the prominence of the ear; however, one technique may be better than another for a special problem.

Depending on your anatomy, a highly experienced surgeon can fine-tune the specific steps they’ll take. That way, they can help you achieve your goals for how your ears will appear, while avoiding any pitfalls.  Facial plastic surgeons, who are board certified as Ear, Nose and Throat specialists, are experts in the anatomy of the ear.

If you’re looking to correct protruding ears in Inland Empire, California (or other ear deformities), you can find me at STC Plastic Surgery in Ontario.

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About Dr. Brian Machida, MD, FACS

Dr. Brian K. Machida, MD, FACS is a double board certified facial plastic surgeon. He has an exceptional level of experience, having performed ( read more )

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