Everybody has different feelings about particular physical features. The ears are no exception. Two people could look at the same pair of ears with one person seeing ears that look nice, while the other feels that they stick out too much.

If you, a friend, or a loved one has ears that make them feel uncomfortable or self-conscious about how they look, you might like to know why you or they have protruding ears and what can be done about them.

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Prominent ears are typically noticed in infancy or early childhood and are most often the result of a normal, genetic variant of ear shape.

If your ears stick out more than 2 centimeters — a little over 3/4 of an inch — they’re considered to be protruding.

The majority of ear deformities are congenital (present from birth). The primary causes for ears that stick out are:

  • An underdeveloped antihelical fold. The outside of your ear is shaped like the letter C. Inside the C, you can see what looks like the letter Y. The bottom part of the Y is the antihelix.
  • Too much cartilage in the concha. The concha is the bowl-shaped part of the ear that pushes your ear away from your head.
  • A combination. Both concha excess and loss of the antihelical fold contribute to the appearance of the ears.

If prominent ears are diagnosed before a baby is three months old, ear molds can be taped to the baby’s ears. These molds, when applied at a young enough age, will reshape the baby’s ears without surgery. This treatment usually takes about six to eight weeks and requires three to four visits.

For older babies, toddlers, children, and adults who want their ears to stick out less, the only option is surgery. It’s called otoplasty and is also known as ear pinning.

Most doctors will wait until a child is at least five years old before performing an otoplasty because ear cartilage is soft and weak prior to that age.

Often, otoplasty is scheduled for a time before the child turns seven. That’s the age when teasing about appearance seems to increase significantly.

Following otoplasty, a bulky dressing is used to aid healing and for protection and comfort. Usually, that dressing is removed in a week or less, while swelling typically lasts for one to two weeks.

For three months following the surgery, you or your child will wear a headband every night to support your or their ears.

Ears that stick out can be a focus for teasing, especially for children. This teasing can have a detrimental effect on self-esteem.

During the first two months of life, parents can have their baby’s ears reshaped with molds. After two months, the only permanent way to reduce how far your ears stick out is to have surgery.