Earlobe Repair Technique - It's Not As Simple As You ThinkEarlobe Repair Technique - It's Not As Simple As You Think

The earlobe is composed of soft skin and a minimal amount of fatty tissue. The strength of this sensitive area can be easily overcome by various forms of trauma, such as the continual wearing of a heavy, pendulous earring in an earlobe piercing, which can lead to a tear or split. Earrings can also become tangled in clothing, hairbrushes, and telephone cords, and are often pulled on by curious infants, all of which can result in injury.

Wearing oversized earrings while sleeping can also cause a piercing to elongate. An elongated hole may continue to enlarge over time and possibly tear, splitting the earlobe in two. In addition to being unattractive, this type of injury can render the earlobe unsuitable for most types of jewelry.

Finally, earlobe stretching through different-sized tapers (cone-shaped pieces of jewelry), plugs (sometimes called "gauges"), or dermal punching is becoming increasingly popular. When stretched too far too fast, the earlobe can sometimes split. While a stretched piercing may shrink back to its original size over time after the jewelry is removed, results can vary widely. Therefore, if an individual has regrets about his or her "lobe gauging," earlobe repair surgery may be recommended.

What Happens During Earlobe Repair Surgery?

The repair and restoration of a torn earlobe is a precise operation that must be performed under high-powered magnification. In addition, if a patient fails to seek immediate medical care after suffering an earlobe tear, scar tissue may form, and any such scar tissue must be excised as part of the earlobe repair procedure.

In general, after a local anesthetic is administered for patient comfort, the healed edges of the skin along the split and any scar tissue are removed from the affected area to create a surface suitable for reattachment. A surgeon must carefully take into account the curvature of the split surfaces in order to minimize the potential visibility of the repair site after healing. Because scars are prone to shortening over time, a straight scar can result in a "gathering up" of the earlobe. In addition, the scar area will be up 20 percent weaker than the surrounding tissue, so if the earlobe is later re-pierced within the scar, the tear is more likely to recur.

To avoid these problems, a Z-plasty procedure may be used. In essence, after the tissue inside the tear is meticulously removed, double opposing flaps are created on either side of the tear, which will result in a non-linear scar. This will prevent recurrent notching and create a smooth, rounded contour at the lower edge of the earlobe.

Patients with "blown out" (severely disfigured or distorted) earlobes require a more extensive procedure to rebuild and tailor the earlobes. These procedures are often more complicated and time-consuming than a regular torn earlobe repair, as tissue must be shaped and excised accordingly to restore normal proportions.

The Recovery Process

Most earlobe repair patients experience very little pain, and any discomfort usually dissipates within 24 hours and can be managed in the meantime with over-the-counter pain relief medications. The ear may feel sensitive after the procedure, and a fine, vertical scar may form. Any incision lines will continue to fade over the course of approximately six months. To prevent swelling, a bandage may be applied, and patients are usually instructed to apply antibiotic ointment to the affected earlobe to protect it from infection. Normal activities, including hair washing, can usually be resumed right away, and the stitches are usually removed in about a week.

If desired, the earlobe can be re-pierced approximately three to six months afterward to allow time for proper healing and the dissipation of scar tissue. The wearing of heavy earrings should be avoided for three months thereafter, if not indefinitely.

As with any surgical procedure, earlobe repair carries a slight risk of complications, such as infection, bleeding, poor wound healing, irregular scarring, asymmetry, and pigmentation. Prospective patients are advised to consult with an experienced cosmetic surgeon, who can explain the procedure and its associated risks in depth.

Earlobe Tears are Easier to Prevent than Treat

Most earlobe trauma is easily preventable if individuals are aware of the risks and take the following precautions:

• Avoid wearing heavy, pendulous earrings for long periods of time.

• Remove earrings prior to using the telephone, getting dressed or undressed, brushing or styling hair, and sleeping.

• Be aware that babies and small children are attracted to earrings.

• Do not allow children to wear hoop or dangling earrings.

• If you desire earlobe stretching, take a gradual and steady approach with an increase of no more than 1mm every four weeks. Do not force skin that does not stretch easily.

Consult with an Experienced Surgeon

Patients who would like more information about earlobe repair are advised to consult with an experienced cosmetic surgeon who is Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.

by Katie Perry
References and Bibliography
Katie Perry is an online content editor in the Tampa Bay area. She posts articles about plastic surgery topics and procedures including earlobe repair and other cosmetic procedures.
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