Warning: Graphic imagery ahead.
Striking ear modification trends that go way beyond a simple piercing have been around for years. Ear stretching, for example- the practice of gradually stretching out one’s earlobe piercing- began thousands of ears ago. It was, and still is practiced by communities like the Maasai in Kenya and the Huaorani in the Amazon, but it has now gained popularity all over the world, too.
Elf ears are another body modification that involves re-shaping of the ear: the procedure is most commonly performed by removing a piece of skin from the top of the ear and suturing the edges together.
Most ear modifications do hide dangers like blood clots or infections occurring, but those can usually be (more or less) prevented or managed. There is a more recent ear reshaping trend, however, that can lead to worse outcomes, including impaired hearing. That is the procedure of conch removal.
What Is a ‘Conch Removal’ and How Does It Look?
Conch removal is the process of surgically removing the ‘conch’, or the inner cartilage of the outer ear, usually leaving a hole big enough to see through the entire ear. A few years ago, an Australian man called Charles V. Bentley travelled to Sweden to undergo the procedure. The removal was performed by piercer and modification practitioner Sonchai Maiber at Calm Body Modification studios, who posted pictures of the results immediately after the surgery was completed:
Photo posted by: Chai At CALM – Body Modification Practitioner (Facebook) , 15th March 2019
According to the artist, the process does not cause hearing impairment and whereas it may affect one’s ability to determine the direction of sound, this passes after a week of two, after the person’s brain has ‘adjusted to their new ears’. Maiber even claimed that conch removal can enhance one’s ability to hear from behind.
What Dangers Does the Modification Hide?
According to plastic surgeons, conch removal involves various risks which can include bleeding, infection, scarring, issues with wound healing, and an extremely difficult reversal. Audiologists, however, have expressed concerns that go beyond those. Various hearing specialists have challenged Sonchai Maiber’s claims that the procedure cannot cause hearing impairment, saying that his comments were ‘completely incorrect’ and that even if the procedure did help with hearing from behind, people would ‘have far more difficulty knowing whether a sound is in fact behind or in front’ of them.
The Connection Between Ear Shape and Hearing
According to an article, when asked whether removing one’s conch can cause hearing impairment, otolaryngologist Mark Widick explained that changing the ear shape in any way or removing a portion of the inner ear can definitely affect a person’s ability to determine where a sound is coming from. He said that while they may be able to hear better from behind, this might result in confusion during conversations, as people need to hear what is being said in front of them when speaking to someone.
Researchers have performed experiments involving placing small silicone pieces inside volunteers’ outer ears and playing sounds from various directions around them. This changed the way participants perceived where a noise was coming from: for example, it would be played above their heads, and they would say it was below them. This is because the ear’s shape is closely related to the way we perceive sound. The outer part of the ear (or the pinna) is shaped in a way that amplifies sounds and helps us locate their source and its direction.
Is Conch Removal Reversible?
In addition to being extremely rare in terms of availability, conch removal reversal is thought to be extremely time-consuming and expensive.
According to board-certified plastic surgeon Paul Stanislaw, the process would consist of two separate procedures: one that involves sewing the remaining part of the ear against the bone behind it in order to allow more blood to flow to the ear and help a skin graft to grow, and a second one to release the ear from its sewn up position and use the skin graft to replace the area where the conch was previously located.
In conclusion, conch removal not only seems to be an expensive and traumatic experience, but it can also lead to hearing impairment, altering your ability to determine where sounds are coming from. Whilst ear modifications are an integral part of many people’s identity, it is vital that we all choose wisely and do as much research as possible before making decisions which can significantly alter the way we experience and navigate the world on a daily basis.