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Dr. Barry Eppley

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Surgeon Dr. Barry Eppley

Posts Tagged ‘earlobe reconstruction’

Repair of the Large Gauged Earlobe

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014


Gauging the earlobe through sequential expansion devices seems relatively new, but it is a custom in some cultures that dates back well into antiquity. It is the earliest form of tissue expansion and proves that even the smallest body structure can be modified by simple pressure. While it is a fashion statement for some today, usually in younger patients, it often is not a body alteration that is maintained over one’s lifetime. Thus it is not uncommon today to see a ‘looped‘ earlobe in which the owner would like to see a more normal earlobe restored.

For small gauged ears, removal of the gauge will allow much of the hole to shrink down. Given a few months the hole in the ear will usually end up as just a small slit in the middle of the earlobe. This is a well known phenomenon that occurs in tissue expansion when the device is removed. It can be remarkable how large of an earlobe hole can close down of given enough time. It will still require surgery to put the earlobe edges back together but the smaller the hole the easier and more natural it will look. But in very large gauged ears or if one is in need of a more rapid closure, a different earlobe reconstructive approach is needed.

In the October 2014 issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Global Open issue, an article appeared entitled ‘Repair of Massive Earlobe Piercing and Plus (Gauging)’ In this short case report, the authors report a single patient in which one earlobe had a 3 cm hole secondary to gauging over a seven year period. The gauge was removed sic weeks prior to surgical repair. The earlobe was repaired and closed using a pedicled skin flap from the inferior rim. The anterior aspect of the expanded earlobe skin was removed the lower skin flap rotated up into the defect to recreate a smaller and shorter earlobe.

Gauged Earlobe Flap Repair Dr Barry Eppley IndianapolisWhile repairing a gauged/enlarged earlobe seems simple because there is an excess of skin, it is actually a bit trickier that it seems. Creating an earlobe that is not excessively long and actually looks like a natural earlobe can be challenging in very large gauged ears. This is because the anterior rim of expanded skin is very thin and often not useable. While in smaller gauged ears excising the low hanging loop of stretched earlobe skin and bringing together the front and back edges of the earlobe will work. (although it will result in an attached earlobe rather than one that has a separation between the earlobe and the side of the face) The excessively or massive expanded ear leaves the front edge of the earlobe unusable. This then requires using the expanded posterior earlobe as a tubed pedicled flap for the earlobe reconstruction as demonstrated in this paper.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana

Postoperative Instructions for Earlobe Repair and Reconstruction

Sunday, March 17th, 2013


Repair of the earlobe is done for a range of conditions from a tear caused by an ear ring, stretching of the earlobe from gauging to traumatic injuries. The small size of the earlobe allows even complex repairs to be done under local anesthesia as an office procedure in most cases.

The after care instructions for earlobe repairs and reconstructions are as follows:

1. Earlobe repairs, whether a simple split repair or a more complete reconstruction, are associated with a minimal amount of pain in the first few days after surgery.  Usually narcotic pain medications are not needed and Tylenol or Ibuprofen are sufficient.

2.  There may be a small dressing (tape or bandaid) placed over the earlobes for the first 12 to 24 hours if the earlobe has significant reconstruction. Its purpose is to catch any oozing that may occur right after surgery. (usually there isn’t but as a precaution) It may be removed the next day. In smaller earlobe repairs there is no dressing used over the sutures.

3.  A light layer of antibiotic ointment needs to be applied to the sutures on the earlobes three times per day to keep them moisturized. This is done whether removeable or dissolveable sutures are used.

4. If permanent sutures are used, they will be removed by Dr. Eppley in 10 to 14 days after surgery.

5. You may shower, wash your face and shave (men) the next day. There is no harm is getting them wet with soap and water.

6. Do not pull on your earlobes or wear clip-on ear rings for up to one month after the procedure. Re-piercing your ears should wait at least 6 to 8 weeks after the earlobe repair.

7. You may wear eyeglasses or sunglasses after the procedure.

8. There are no activity restrictions after the surgery. You may exercise at any level at which you feel comfortable.

9.   You may drive right after the procedure. Since most earlobe repairs are performed under local anesthesia, many patients drive themselves to and from the facility.

10.  If any redness, tenderness, or drainage develops from the earlobe after the first week of surgery, call Dr. Eppley and have your pharmacy number ready.

Consent for Plastic Surgery: Earlobe Repair and Reconstruction

Saturday, March 16th, 2013


Every plastic surgery procedure has numerous issues that every patient who is undergoing a procedure should know. These explanations are always on a consent form that you should read in detail before surgery. This consent form, while many perceive as strictly a legal protection for the doctor, is actually more intended to improve the understanding of the earlobe repair or reconstruction procedure. The following is what Dr. Eppley discusses with his patients for this procedure. This list includes many, but not all, of the different outcomes from surgery. It should generate both a better understanding of the procedure and should answer any remaining questions that one would have.


There are no alternatives to surgical repair of a split or gauged (expanded) earlobe.


The goal of earlobe repair/reconstruction is to restore the size and form of the bottom portion of the ear.


The limitations to earlobe repair is how much natural earlobe tissue remains, whether it has any scar associated with it (e.g., keloid) and what the adjoining cartilaginous ear looks like.


Expected outcomes include the following: temporary swelling and bruising of the ear, a temporary firmness of the reconstructed earlobe, some mild discomfort of the earlobe, and temporary redness of the incision line/scar. It may take weeks to months before the final shape and optimal appearance of the earlobe is achieved.


Complications may include bleeding, infection, dehiscence of the incisional closure (part or complete separation), a prominent or noticeable scar, earlobe asymmetry from the other side, and a notch along the outer rim of the earlobe.


How the earlobe heals and the occurrence of complications can influence the final shape and appearance of the earlobe after it heals. Should complications or the desire to enhance the result further by additional surgery be needed, this will generate additional costs.

The Energing Trend Of Stretched Earlobe Repair

Saturday, January 14th, 2012

The adornment of ears has been around since the dawn of civilization. Women and men have been putting all sorts of jewelry on ears from the top of the helix down to the earlobe. In what some may consider out of the ordinary or more extreme, the non-cartilaginous portion of the ear (earlobe) has even been split, severed or expanded in the interest of aesthetic enhancement.

When one thinks of changing the size of the earlobe, thoughts are given to people from some remote island or tribes from more distant lands. But the trend of earlobe expansion that has been seen in the past ten years, that of gauging or inserts into the earlobes, is now commonplace right here in the U.S. While everyone is entitled to their own sense of beauty and body modification, expanded earlobes with large central holes with or without inserts is usually not going to be a lifelong expression for most people.

As a plastic surgeon I am seeing more young men present for surgical correction of the stretched earlobes. The most common reasons are either for employment or job promotion, entering the military service or they simply are tired of them. The first two are forced upon the person by having to mold into the conformity of the organization. The last reason is one in which one wants to undo a generational fashion statement that now makes one self-conscious with a lot of saggy earlobes. Such an appearance, as unfair as it might be, creates an impression amongst some that they know who and what you are.

Whatever the motivation for change, plastic surgery correction of stretched earlobes is an easy problem to fix. Stretching the earlobes creates too much earlobe tissue, even if the outer rim of it can be quite thin. It is always better to have too much tissue in which to do a reconstruction than too little.This is a basic axiom in plastic surgery. While the large amount of floppy earlobe tissue and its central oblong hole may look like an impossibility from which to create a unified smaller earlobe, it is actually straightforward to do. It can be done in the office under local anesthesia in less than an hour for both earlobes. So what may have taken a year or so to create by steadily increasing the gauge of the disc inserts can be undone in one hour of precision reconstruction to make the earlobe look normal again.

Recovery from such earlobe reconstruction is very minimal if at all. I use dissolveable sutures on both sides the earlobe which require no removal. No dressings are used and one only applies antibiotic ointment for the first week after the procedure. Showering, washing one’s hair and all normal activities can be done without interruption. Patients report no pain, bruising and minimal swelling. The earlobe looks normal immediately. Patients interestingly do report the feeling of ‘phantom lobes’, much like that of phantom limb syndrome after amputations. But there seems to be no problem adjusting back to what looks very similar to their original earlobes, albeit with a tiny vertical scar in the earlobe close to its attachment to the face.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana

Case Study: Repair of the Torn Gauged Earlobe

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Background:  The earlobe has long been an anatomic location for personal adornment. From piercings to endless styles of ear rings, just about every conceivable variation of jewelry has been adapted to be applied to the earlobe. One of the more recent practices of earlobe fashion has been that or stretching or gauging the earlobe with the placement of various inserts.

By the gradual use of increasing size metal inserts, an earlobe hole is stretched out to some incredible sizes. This process of stretching is well known in plastic surgery as tissue expansion. The gauged earlobe is just a miniature version of it applied for cosmetic purposes to the diminuitive earlobe.

Like the lessons learned in tissue expansion surgery, the skin can be satisfactorily stretched provided that it is not done too fast or the skin stretched too far. In the case of the earlobe, the stretched earlobe rim of skin survives by the blood flow coming in from both ends. But when it gets stretched too thin, the blood supply is cut off and a central ischemic zone develops in which the skin dies. This causes the earlobe hole to be transformed into two hanging skin flaps as it falls apart.

Case Study: This 21 year-old man presented with a large split right earlobe. He had gauged both earlobes and, even though they were done with the same size inserts and at the same rate, the right earlobe fell apart while the left one remained intact. The earlobe had a large hanging posteriorly-based skin tube and a small anterior nubbin of skin (remaining earlobe) attached to the side of the face.

He underwent a right earlobe repair under local anesthesia. The posteriorly-based skin flap (tube) was shortened and the anterior nubbin’s skin edges were reopened. The two were re-attached to make a normal-sized earlobe and elimination of any remaining hole. It is an earlobe procedure that is not much more complex than a split earlobe repair and can be completed in about 30 minutes.

No dressing were applied and only antibiotic was used twice daily. He could shower and wash his hair the very next day. There is no problem getting reconstructed earlobes wet. While dissolveable sutures are placed on the back of the earlobe, those sutures on the front of the earlobe are removed one week later. The earlobes can be re-pierced in six weeks but never again can be stretched or gauged.

Case Highlights:

1)      Gauging of the earlobe makes an enlarged hole at the expense of the earlobe skin and blood supply. If stretched too quickly or too far, it can tear the remaining earlobe skin.


2)      The torn stretched earlobe presents two skin flaps (tubes) which can be shortened and put back together, restoring the original size and shape of the earlobe.


3)      A repaired gauged earlobe can sustain a secondary piercing but can never again be stretched or expanded.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana

Case Study: Reconstruction of the Torn Stretched (Gauged) Earlobe

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Background:  Earlobe stretching (often incorrectly referred to as ear gauging) is the deliberate expansion of an initially healed piercing into a much larger through and through  hole. The purpose of earlobe stretching is for the ultimate purpose of wearing jewelry in the hole. Stretching is usually done in small amounts over time to avoid the potential for tearing the earlobe or causing other problems such as infection. When done too quickly or enlarged beyond the remaining blood supply of the stretched earlobe rim, the skin edges will die and separate.

The practice of earlobe stretching is based upon a well known and used plastic surgery technique…and a method seen since mankind has walked this earth. (pregnancy) Tissue expansion is the concept of using an internal device to slowly stretch out the overlying or enveloping skin. Introduced in plastic surgery for reconstruction in the early 1980s, it is now primarily used in breast reconstruction after mastectomy and in pediatric scalp reconstruction.

Ear stretching is simply applying the same concept to the earlobe. Potential complications are the same including infection, scarring, and thinning of the skin with subsequent breakdown. They are known to occur particularly when the skin stretching is done too fast and the blood supply to the skin is compromised. The earlobe is at a greater risk for this problem because the outer rim of skin is not that thick and it ends up as an expanded skin loop. Blood supply must come in only from the two sides of the loop.

Case Study: This is a classic case of one of the known complications of ear stretching. When one part of the stretched earlobe loop exceeds its blood supply, it will separate. While this can occur anywhere along the loop, it most commonly occurs closer to where the earlobe attaches to the face. This is a 19 year-old male who, by his own admission, was gauging too fast without allowing the requisite time between gauge size increases. While his left ear at the same gauze size was fine, the right earlobe got sore, bleed, and separately a few days later. He was seen in my Indianapolis plastic surgery practice three weeks later.

Reconstruction of this earlobe defect uses a plastic surgery principle that has been created in the stretching…pedicled tube flaps. In days long gone by in plastic surgery, before the use of pedicled flaps and free tissue transfer, the tubed or walking skin flap was a primary reconstruction method. By cutting parallel incisions in skin and rolling the cut ends together, a skin tube or loop was created with the two ends remaining attached for the blood supply to get in. After allowing time for the intervening skin loop to get an enhanced blood supply, one end was released and ‘walked’ toward the defect site. Like a slinky, one end of the tubed flap was cut and reattached over time until one end of the skin loop found its way into the missing tissue area. The longer end of the separated earlobe loop is exactly a tubed flap.

By freshening up the length and end of the long earlobe loop, it can be reattached to the inner stump of the earlobe. Its length will need to be trimmed as the expanded loop is too long. This can be done as a simple procedure in the office under local anesthesia. A normally shaped and size earlobe can be restored. One should expect some shrinking of the size of the earlobe as expanded skin is well known to contract later. Sutures are removed in a week. Patients are not advised to return to any further efforts at stretching.

While ear stretching (gauging) is a destructive fashion trend for the ear, at least it is creating more tissue by expansion. This enables secondary earlobe reconstruction, if needed, to be successfully done. In reconstructive plastic surgery, it is always better to have too much tissue. This is particularly true in the ear where extra tissue is normally hard to come by.

Case Highlights:

1)      Ear stretching (gauging) is based on the plastic surgery principle of tissue expansion. When stretching too fast, necrosis of the earlobe loop can occur by compromising its blood supply.

2)      Reconstruction of the split stretched earlobe can be done using a tubed flap technique. There is almost always enough tissue to recreate a normal size and shape of the earlobe.

3)      Earlobe can be satisfactorily reconstructed in intact or split earlobe stretchings.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana

Earlobe Reconstruction of the Gauged (Stretched) Earlobe

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Earlobe repairs are often quite simple and use standard techniques for slits and tear deformities. The gauged ear, however, is a different matter.  Gauges, also known as tunnels, cogs, caps or plugs, create a considerable tissue expansion of the earlobe and require a more sophisticated approach to repair.

Younger men with gauged ears are increasingly requesting earlobe repair. This is usually so that they can enroll in the military. If not for this concern, many simply remove the earlobe device and let it shrink and contract with a resulting earlobe deformity.

Like a simple split earlobe repair, gauged ear reconstruction can be done under local anesthesia. In simplicity, the oval cleft of the earlobe is initially converted into a complete cleft by removing the remaining skin margins up to the diameter of the gauged device. The remaining inner earlobe margins (which were up against the device) are de-epithelized. The reapproximation process of the edges then begins at the apex of the cleft margins and runs outward towards the helical margin. By so doing, one can work out any excess vertical length so the repair does not look too long and pointy. A two-layer closure is done at the subcutaneous and skin layers. I prefer skin sutures that have to be removed in 7 to 10 days. No dressing is needed.

In significant ear gauges, a completely normal earlobe may not be possible to get. Usually the earlobe will be a little smaller. But I prefer a well-shaped earlobe that is smaller than one that is more normal in size but has an elongated appearance.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana

Plastic Surgery Repair of the Split or Torn Earlobe

Friday, February 20th, 2009

The wearing of ear jewelry has been done for thousands of years to enhance one’s appearance. Rings, posts, and other objects have been used for ear ornaments and they are as popular today as they have ever been in history. While various parts of the ear are pierced, the earlobe is the most universal site. Unfortunately the earlobe has no structural support because it contains no cartilage unlike the rest of the ear. As a result, the weight of large ear rings or trauma can pull them through the earlobe, leaving a tear or notch in the otherwise smooth continuous edge of the earlobe. The split earlobe not only causes an obvious cosmetic deformity which is hard to cover but also makes it difficult to continue to wear any ear jewelry.

Repair of the split earlobe is a common procedure that is easily done in the office at a low cost. In some cases, the ear lobe hole is merely enlarged (and almost torn through) but most cases have a complete tear creating an inverted V look. Depending on the earlobe problem, reconstruction can take different forms. In every method used, however, the skin lining the hole or tear is removed creating fresh new skin edges from to rebuild.

There are numerous minor variations to earlobe repairs, all with the intent of leaving the earlobe with a smooth and non-notched outer skin border. Whether it be a straight-line closure, z-plasty, rim w-plasty, or jelly-roll technique, they all can work successfully if done well. Over the years, I have found that the straight-line closure will work in most cases. The fear of a notched earlobe rim has not been borne out in my experience. The key is to do a complete resection of all skin edges of the tear so that a tension-free closure can be done.

After an earlobe repair, there are some small sutures that I will need to remove in a week. There are no dressings or special care that needs to be done after. One can shower and get the ear wet as normal. There is virtually no pain after and only a very mild amount of swelling.

Repair of the torn or split earlobe is a simple plastic surgery procedure that works well. One should not avoid having it done for fear that it is a big involved ordeal….for it is not.

Dr. Barry Eppley

Indianapolis, Indiana

Dr. Barry EppleyDr. Barry Eppley

Dr. Barry Eppley is an extensively trained plastic and cosmetic surgeon with more than 20 years of surgical experience. He is both a licensed physician and dentist as well as double board-certified in both Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery and Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. This training allows him to perform the most complex surgical procedures from cosmetic changes to the face and body to craniofacial surgery. Dr. Eppley has made extensive contributions to plastic surgery starting with the development of several advanced surgical techniques. He is a revered author, lecturer and educator in the field of plastic and cosmetic surgery.

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