Do your ears grow as you get older?
Ears are wonderful things. As well as opening up the world of sound for those blessed with the sense of hearing – that is another story – they provide us with something to which we can attach our spectacles. In Chinese physiognomy large ears are a sign of longevity. As I grow ever older I get this unshakeable feeling that the size of my ears is increasing. The consensus seems to be that old men have big ears and so for those of us with an enquiring mind this prompts the question: Do ears really grow larger with age and, if so, is it a phenomenon restricted to men?
The starting point for our investigation into the lughole is a paper published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 1995, entitled Why do old men have big ears? In this fascinating monograph a general practitioner from Bromley in Kent, James Heathcote, recounts a survey he and three of his doctor colleagues conducted into the size of men’s ears in 1993. The doctors measured the ear sizes of 206 men of aged 30 and over and analysed the results. They calculated that ears grew at an average of 0.22 millimetres a year or, to put it another way, around a centimetre every 50 years. Frustratingly, the worthy medics didn’t hazard a guess as to why this may happen.
But it seems that the British investigation only tells half a story, having concentrated exclusively on the male sex. For an understanding of what happens with the ears of the fairer sex. A paper, reprinted in the BMJ in 1996 entitled Correlation of Ear Length with Age in Japan details the findings of some physicians working in care homes in Japan (surprise, surprise) where they measured the ears and height of some 400 adult patients of both sexes. What they found was that there is a significant correlation between the length of your ear and age, confirming Heathcote’s findings, and that there is an even greater correlation when adjusted for height – across both sexes.
An Italian study in 1999, conducted by VF Ferrario and others, measured the ears of groups of males and females in age categories 12 to 15, 19 to 30 and 31 to 56. What they discovered was that ear dimensions were significantly larger in males than females and that there was a significant effect on the size of lugholes with age with larger ears to be found amongst the aging population.
A more exhaustive study was conducted in around 2006 was conducted by a team of Germans from the Freie Universitat Berlin, led by Carsten Niemitz, based upon some original original research carried out in 1959 by Montacer-Kuhssary. The team found some 1448 photographs of ears of people of all ages ranging from new-born children to adolescents to adults and old codgers up to the age of 92. Each of the photographs was subjected to fifteen different sets of measurements. What the team found that “in all parameters where post adult growth was observed, female ears showed a lesser increase than those of men.” Moreover the extent to which older men have bigger ears than younger males is greater than the extent to which older women’s lugholes are bigger than younger females’. But the fact is that women’s ears grow with age as well. Perhaps the reason why we don’t notice this phenomenon is because they often wear their hair in styles which cover the ears.
They also found that noses grow with age but not at the rate of ears – perhaps the Pinocchio effect of those shaggy dog stories the elderly are so fond of telling. There is no certainty as to why ears grow. It may be due to the loss of elasticity in the skin and the effect of gravity. Who knows?
Glad to have uncovered the truth on that one, though.
If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Curious Questions by Martin Fone which is now available via www.martinfone.com