What are ear tags?
Also known as an accessory tragus or a branchial cleft remnant, ear tags are benign growths that consist of skin and sometimes cartilage. Ear tags are usually located in front of the ear or on the cheek.
The external ear forms early in development when six soft tissue swellings (hillocks) fuse together. When the soft tissue fuses together incorrectly, additional appendages may form in front of the ear. These are called preauricular tags and are comprised of skin, fat or cartilage.
Ear tags can occur by themselves or may occur in association with genetic syndromes such as Goldenhar syndrome, hemifacial microsomia, and first and second branchial arch syndrome.
Diagnosis and evaluation
Ear tags are typically discovered at birth.
Some children with accessory ear tags may also have associated hearing loss on the same side. All babies should undergo newborn hearing screening to test for any hearing loss.
Some physicians will recommend tying a string around the ear tag to intentionally reduce blood flow until the tag falls off. However, this can leave a small bump at the site because there is cartilage within the base of the stalk.
Therefore, the recommended treatment approach is to remove the ear tag by surgical excision. Your child’s doctor will make a small incision around the base of the tag and cut the cartilage stalk several millimeters below the surface of the skin. This procedure will avoid a small cartilage bump. Your child will have a small scar, but will not require any further treatment. These tags do not grow back after surgery.
Infants with a simple ear tag not containing cartilage may be able to have the ear tag removed during their visit to the doctor’s office. A local anesthetic can be applied to the skin to reduce pain.
If your child has multiple ear tags or complex-shaped tags, the doctor may recommend the tags be removed under a general anesthetic to ensure your child’s comfort. These procedures are performed on an outpatient basis.
Reviewed by David W. Low, MD