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End of a trend: Repairing gauged ear lobes

April 9, 2014 3:26:12 PM PDT
Ear gauging is a trend that involves stretching an ear piercing to accommodate a large plug, sometimes a half inch or wider. While it is popular with teens, some are realizing that they usually are not acceptable when looking for a job. Now, plastic surgeons have the challenge of how to repair the lobes when someone takes out the piercings and wants normal-looking ears again.

Ear gauging involves not just piercing the earlobe, but also stretching the small hole, making it larger and larger.

In his mid-teens, D.J. Della Pia, age 19, noticed a body piercing that caught his attention.

"Lot of my friends and rock bands had these big holes in their ears, I thought that's interesting, something rebellious to do I guess," Pia said, about ear gauging.

Ear gauging is not a stud earring. It is big holes in the earlobe filled with a wood or metal plug about a half inch in diameter.

Dr. Brian Glatt, a plastic surgeon, reversed Pia's ears recently.

"I'm getting older trying to finish up school, get a job and a lot of places are not looking to hire someone with big holes in their ears," Pia said.

The holes can shrink back if they're under a half inch in diameter, but larger ones need plastic surgery. Despite decades of the fad, there seems to be little information on how to reverse it.

Fixing gauged earlobes is such a new plastic surgery procedure that according to Dr. Glatt, there are no reports in the surgical journals on how to repair the problem.

Dr. Glatt says he generally removes scar tissue around the hole and stitches the sides together, under local anesthesia. Sometimes he does the operation with intravenous sedation as well as local anesthesia. Patients are almost all young men, and many smoke.

"[Smoking] actually makes their wound worse and predisposes them to a scar which is not as nice looking and they may have trouble healing," said Dr. Glatt.

Can Bocchino, 20 years old, is a tattoo artist, who had disfiguring scar tissue after ear gauging. He had surgery to fix the gauged earlobes and covered the tiny scars with a couple tattoos.

"I'm not against them but mine were definitely bad, they just looked disfigured...butt...I'm glad I got them closed, they look a lot better," Bocchino said.

The surgery means only a couple of stitches, which stay in for about a week.

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