Having protruding ears does not usually affect a person’s hearing, but they can sometimes cause embarrassment and psychological distress. Ears are one of the first parts of the body to develop to full adult size, so if they protrude they can be particularly noticeable in children and may lead to teasing or bullying.
Adults with protruding ears can have practical problems. For example, they may find it difficult to wear certain items of headgear, such as a motorbike helmet. Women with protruding ears may also feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about wearing their hair up.
The outer ear is designed to stick out from the side of the head at an angle of about 20 to 35 degrees. However, in a small number of people, the angle is more than 35 degrees, resulting in protruding ears.
Protruding ears can happen if there is too much cartilage, or if the ridge of cartilage at the top of the ear does not fold properly during development. They can also be the result of an injury to the ears.
Ear reshaping is called otoplasty – a surgical technique, sometimes known as a pinnaplasty, where the cartilage is remodelled to create the missing folds and position the ear closer to the head.