New implant means I'll never be Dumbo again.
THEY may be "all the better to hear you with", but many people with sticking-out ears go to great lengths to cover them up, including having expensive surgery.
Some people grow their hair long to cover them - others insist on wearing hats and scarves.
But protruding ears can have a serious psychological effect, and a growing number are going under the knife to have their ears pinned back.
Ear correction surgery, known as otoplasty or pinnaplasty, costs around [euro]4,400, putting it beyond the reach of many.
But Ash Labib, consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon and cosmetic specialist, said: "Most often it's not the price but the downtime and recovery period that puts people off.
"Very often those with protruding ears don't want to tell the world they've had surgery.
"That means they have to hide away and take precious time off work because of the dressings you need to keep on."
LIGHTWEIGHT But a new implant means the problem could be ear today, gone tomorrow.
The Earfold is a thin, curved metal implant that reshapes the cartilage in the ear. It's very small - just five millimetres wide and 15 mm long.
It's made of nitinol - a lightweight mixture of titanium and nickel which is widely used in medicine - and is coated in 24-carat gold to make it less visible beneath the skin.
It's also much quicker to fit than undergoing standard surgery.
Traditionally, surgeons make a cut behind the ear under general anaesthetic, remove small pieces of cartilage, then stitch the remainder of the ear into the desired shape and position.
And because the ears are kept bandaged up for so long after the operation, the finished look isn't always as the patient or the surgeon had envisaged, says Mr Labib.
However, the implant can be fitted under local anaesthetic in as little as 20 minutes.
Mr Labib says: "We can re-form the cartilage into the desired position with no potential complications and perfect results every time because the end results are the results you see when you walk out of the room."
The Earfold was developed in England by surgeon Norbet Cang at London's Royal Free Hospital.
It's suitable for anyone from the age of seven and can also be used to adjust asymmetrical ears. The implant is not yet widely used as it's so new.
Mr Labib currently carries out around 10 procedures a year, but believes they will become much more common in the future.
Photographer Natalie May, from Hornchurch in Essex, had an Earfold fitted last month.
She has been bothered by her ears for as long as she can remember and suffered a crisis of confidence after being bullied aged 13.
Natalie, 30, said: "A giggling group of girls called me Dumbo. The nickname stuck and knocked my confidence for years.
"From then on, I became really self-conscious and avoided exposing my ears at any cost."
Natalie spent 30 minutes every morning painstakingly combing her thick curls into place to cover her ears and wore a headband to hide them whenever she played sport. When she started dating, she never let her boyfriends see her ears. It was only when she met her fiance Edvinas in April 2013 and felt safe enough to let him see her ears that she knew she had found Mr Right.
They moved in with his family last year to save for their wedding and a house. At the time, Natalie began considering surgery to fix her ears.
She says: "I went for a couple of consultations, but wearing bandages for several days really put me off, especially as it would mean taking time off work and would let people know I was having surgery for something I was really embarrassed about."
Then a friend, who worked at Courthouse Clinics, told Natalie about the Earfold.
"It felt like a huge relief that there was now an option available," she says. Mr Labib fitted the implant at the clinic in July. The procedure cost around [euro]3,300.
Natalie says: "I couldn't feel a thing apart from the needles to put in the anaesthetic.
"Once it was done and I could see my new ears, I just broke down in tears.
"I couldn't believe something which had bothered me for so many years had been fixed so quickly and painlessly."
Natalie was able to go straight back to work without anyone knowing what she'd had done.
TEMPORARY "If you looked closely, you could just about see the two tiny stitches, but that was only temporary," she says. "I've told close friends and family, but as some have never seen me with my hair up, they didn't know why I wanted it."
Now Natalie is looking forward to her wedding in September 2019.
She says: "Needless to say, I'm trying every kind of hair-up look I can to show off my new face in my bridal gown.
"I'll be jumping in front of the camera at every opportunity - and nobody will ever call me Dumbo again!" | |For more information on the Earfold, go to courthouseclinics.com
Giggling girls destroyed my confidence, but now I can't wait to put my hair up and show off my new faceThere are no complications and results are perfect
AFTER Natalie loves her new look