What is ear pinning?

Ear pinning is surgery to correct protruding ears. Ear pinning is a type of otoplasty, or plastic surgery on the outer ear. Your surgeon may need to remove cartilage and skin behind your ears, and will use permanent sutures, or stitches, to pin back your ears. Most people seek ear pinning for cosmetic or aesthetic reasons.

Ear pinning is a common surgery with risks and potential complications. Consider getting a second opinion about all of your treatment choices before having ear pinning.

Other procedures that may be performed

Your doctor may perform other cosmetic procedures in addition to ear pinning to enhance the appearance of your ears. For example, your doctor may recommend ear reshaping if you want to change the size or shape of your ears. Ear reshaping is another type of otoplasty.

Why is ear pinning surgery performed?

Your doctor may recommend ear pinning if you are dissatisfied with how far your ears stick out from your head. Good candidates for ear pinning surgery are generally healthy adults and children five years of age or older. 

Ask your doctor about all of your treatment options and consider getting a second opinion before deciding on ear pinning.

Who performs ear pinning surgery?

The following specialists perform ear pinning surgery:

  • Plastic surgeons specialize in aesthetic and reconstructive surgery. 
  • Facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons specialize in plastic and reconstructive surgery of the face. They initially train as plastic surgeons or otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors/surgeons).
  • Head and neck plastic surgeons specialize in plastic and reconstructive surgery of the head and neck. They initially train as plastic surgeons or otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors/surgeons).

How is ear pinning surgery performed?

Your ear pinning will be performed in a hospital, surgeon's office, or outpatient surgery clinic. Ear pinning surgery techniques vary depending on your needs. 

The surgery typically involves making an incision just behind the ear, in the natural fold where the ear and head meet. Your surgeon may remove or trim excess ear cartilage and skin. Then your surgeon will reposition and secure your ear with permanent, internal stitches. 

Types of anesthesia that may be used

Your doctor will perform ear pinning surgery using either general anesthesia or regional anesthesia, depending on the specific procedure.

  • General anesthesia is a combination of intravenous (IV) medications and gases that put you in a deep sleep. You are unaware of the procedure and will not feel any pain. 
  • Regional anesthesia is also known as a nerve block. It involves injecting an anesthetic around certain nerves to numb a large area of the body. To numb a smaller area, your doctor injects the anesthetic in the skin and tissues around the procedure area (local anesthesia). You will likely have sedation with regional anesthesia to keep you relaxed and comfortable.  

What to expect the day of your surgery

The day of your surgery, you can expect to:

  • Talk with a preoperative nurse. The nurse will perform an exam and ensure that all needed tests are in order. The nurse can also answer questions and will make sure you understand and sign the surgical consent form.
  • Remove all clothing and jewelry and dress in a hospital gown. It is a good idea to leave all jewelry and valuables at home or with a family member. Your care team will give you blankets for modesty and warmth.
  • Talk with the anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist about your medical history and the type of anesthesia you will have.
  • A surgical team member will start an IV.
  • The anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist will start your anesthesia.
  • A tube will be placed in your windpipe to protect and control breathing during general anesthesia. You will not feel or remember this or the surgery as they happen.
  • The surgical team will monitor your vital signs and other critical body functions. This occurs throughout the procedure and your recovery until you are alert, breathing effectively, and your vital signs are stable.