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More people getting ear lobes repaired

August 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Heavy hoops and dangling chandelier styles are all the rage in fashion, but your ears may pay a price. Many doctors are seeing an increase in patients requesting repair work on their ear lobes.For Frieda Dewalt, the hole in her ear is so big her earrings don't stay on. This is a problem for many other women as well.

"Even if I got the screw back, it would look like it's about to fall out. And I've lost two pair of diamond earrings because they actually did fall out," said Frieda.

The common culprits are heavy earrings, constant tugging from telephone use and accidental tears.

"I've seen a lot of mothers where their ears are split because their baby or their toddler just grabs onto the earring and pulls it," said plastic surgeon Dr. Ivan Thomas.

Dr. Thomas says he's repaired them all, but lately he's been seeing a new type of patient. People with extremely stretched out lobes like Eric Anderson's.

"It was a conscious decision, as far as that goes. I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew the ramifications," said Eric.

His collection of plugs include ornate wooden wheels, nearly two-inch stone discs, and some flashy rhinestone ones.

Now that he's an emergency medical technician, his long lobes are a safety concern. Eric will need a complete ear lobe reconstruction.

"It's very challenging because there's not much normal ear tissue left," said Dr. Thomas.

Eric did his research to find a doctor with experience. If the damage is close to the cartilage it can be a completely different operation.

"You have to have the skill and of course a lot of imagination and visualization," said Dr. Thomas.

Just like Eric, Frieda is completely awake during her procedure.

Repairing an elongated hole or a split earlobe is not as simple as you might think. Many end up caving in at the incision so Dr. Thomas has developed a special technique.

"Where I make a special, certain incision within the depth of the earlobe, similar to an inverted letter T," said Dr. Thomas.

Creating this inverted surface on each side of the tear allows the incision to heal upwards, which makes the repair site rise instead of sag.

A total reconstruction like Eric's can run about $1,500 per ear. A simpler procedure like Frieda's typically costs about $600 per ear.

All of the procedures are done with a local anesthetic. Most patients can manage with over the counter pain medications.

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