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 before a baby is born when six raised soft tissue swellings (hillocks) fuse together. Additional appendages comprised of skin, fat, or cartilage may form in front of the ear. These are called preauricular tags.
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. Babies born with ear tags should undergo newborn hearing screening to test for any hearing loss.
Many ear tags have a narrow stalk (a pedunculated tag) that does not contain any cartilage, and some pediatricians may tie a string around the tag to intentionally “strangle” it.
Because most ear tags have cartilage within the stalk, 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 to 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 pedunculated 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, her 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