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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Byline: Jonathan Thompson

After the boom in busts, bee-stung lips and implanted bottoms, plastic surgeons are now noting major growth in an entirely different part of the body: the humble ear.

Figures from the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), to be released this week, reveal that the number of otoplasties, or ear- pinning operations, has increased dramatically over the past year " and every year since 2002.

The surgery " once restricted primarily to children with hearing difficulties " is rapidly becoming one of the most popular cosmetic options for adults unhappy with their appearance.

According to the association, there was an increase of more than 60 per cent in the number of people undergoing otoplasty last year, with approximately 1,000 Britons now opting for the procedure annually. The operation is particularly common among men; it is now the second most popular procedure for male patients " ahead of facelifts and liposuction, but behind rhinoplasty.

Dr David Gault, a London-based consultant plastic surgeon and leading expert on ear reconstruction, said the trend for ear-pinning had become pronounced as more people became aware of how available, and relatively affordable, the procedure was. An otoplasty, he said, would cost in the region of pounds 2,000.

'There do seem to be more and more people wanting this operation, and the numbers are going up year on year,' said Dr Gault. 'This is vastly to do with appearance. People tend to be quite sensitive about their ears, and an off-the cuff remark, from a departing partner for instance, can really hurt.'

Dr Gault said that despite the fact that there were a number of prominent middle-aged men who appeared quite happy with protuberant ears " ranging from Prince Charles to the Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, and the political commentator Andrew Marr " it was this social group who were most enthusiastic about the procedure.

'It's quite common to try to disguise this problem with a clever hairstyle,' Dr Gault said. 'But hairstyles tend to get shorter with age, and particularly for men who lose their hair, camouflage slowly thins.'

Otoplasty itself is a relatively simple procedure, and can be carried out in a number of different ways; ranging from straightforward stitching to careful scoring of the cartilage, in order to encourage the ear to bend itself back.

The procedure usually takes just over 30 minutes per ear.

According to the BAAPS, another contributing factor for the increase in people electing to undergo otoplasty may be that, previously, many have been put off by the need for general anaesthetic. However, this sort of operation can now be undergone as an out-patient under local anaesthetic.

Cosmetic surgery as a whole is a flourishing sector. According to the association, the number of procedures completed in Britain rose by 50 per cent last year, with more than 16,000 operations in total.

The vast majority " around 92 per cent " of those were on women, but demand for surgery among men is also growing dramatically. Douglas McGeorge, the president-elect of the BAAPS, said: 'People are retiring and starting new lives rather than retiring to die, as our parents' generation did.

'If you feel young, you want to look young, and there is much more acceptance of using cosmetic surgery to do that.'

COPYRIGHT 2005 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.