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What Is an Earlobe?

A woman with two piercings in her earlobe.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2014
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An earlobe is the soft part of the external ear, known formally as the auricle or pinna. The earlobes are comprised entirely of soft connective tissue and are highly flexible, with a rich blood supply. They tend to feel slightly warm to the touch because of their substantial vascularization. The anatomical function of this structure is not well understood; unlike the rest of the auricle, it does not appear to play a role in hearing and the direction of sound.

Like many anatomical structures, the shape and size of the earlobe can vary radically between different individuals. Some people have attached earlobes, while others have free-hanging lobes. This is determined by a simple dominant or recessive trait; attached earlobes are recessive, and it is necessary to inherit two copies of the gene for this trait to express. The exact distribution of free versus attached lobes varies by population, as some races appear to have a higher concentration of the recessive or dominant gene than others.

Sometimes the earlobe may be creased or pocked. Variations in the structure of the lobe are often entirely normal and do not indicate any underlying health issue. In some patients with genetic disorders, creases in the earlobe are one of the signs of the disorder, and the patient may have other head abnormalities as well, as a result of their abnormal genes. As individuals age, their earlobes tend to sag and crease, and their structure may change over time.

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At one point, researchers believed that creased earlobes in an otherwise healthy individual could be a warning sign of cardiovascular disease. Additional research into the topic suggests that ear lobes and heart disease merely share aging as a risk factor, and there is no direct connection between creases and heart attacks. People with creased earlobes are more likely to have heart problems because they are older, and their ears have nothing to do with it.

The earlobe is a popular site for wearing ornaments like earrings. It is easy to pierce the soft tissue in this location, and many cultures share a tradition of wearing ornaments in the ears. Some earrings also stretch the lobe to change its shape. For people who are not satisfied with the aesthetic appearance of their ear lobes, the lobes can be modified by plastic surgery to change in shape. This requires a skilled surgeon, as it is important to maintain symmetry between the lobes.

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snickerish
Post 13

@Sinbad - I hate tell you, but as much as I love to wear earrings as well, I have never been able to clear any earlobe infection while wearing any earring whether it is sterling silver, hypoallergenic, or other special earring post.

What has worked for me is doing exactly what you said, taking the earrings out at night, and washing the area. But the next thing to do is to take a break from earrings as well.

Then when you come back to earrings after the earlobe piercing infections is gone, maybe try to buy earrings that are hypoallergenic or sterling silver or something of that nature.

You can wear the less expensive metals that seem to make my earlobes more prone to infections but for me, I know I can’t wear them for the whole day.

So for those beautiful but inexpensive earrings that I love I know it is a night out or work-day wear pair of earrings as opposed to an all day earring.

Sinbad
Post 12

I am constantly getting earlobe infections around the site of my earring piercing (I just have one). I make sure to take my earrings out at night, and wash the site thoroughly, but without fail I find my earlobes getting a little painful and a little warm with infection by mid-afternoon.

Does anyone have any suggestions on what to do? I love to wear earrings, so I would like to be able to do both, fix the infection and wear earrings.

Tomislav
Post 11

The strangest thing that has ever happened to my earlobe was that I once had a cyst in my earlobe. It went away on its own, but it just felt like a little hard ball in my earlobe right next to where my earlobe was pierced.

However, the strangest thing I have seen with earlobes, not that there is anything wrong with strange, but the stretched earlobes that are so large that when the person takes the earring out that has been stretching the ear there is a big gaping hole.

I have seen it in person, but also on TV (of course, but what don't you see on TV). But this person was not showing off his large lobes rather he was getting his stretched earlobe repaired.

He was not embarrassed or tired of his earrings he just felt he would be more employable if he did not have large earrings or large lobes hanging from his ears.

starrynight
Post 10

@ceilingcat - Ear piercing does seem to be universally popular. And it's one piercing that seems to be universally socially acceptable, at least if it's on a woman's earlobe. I know some people think other ear piercings are scandalous, but I've never heard anyone say anything bad about an earlobe piercing.

Anyway, I had no idea that the earlobes didn't really serve a biological purpose. Apparently they're just there for decoration! I wonder if they use to serve some kind of purpose, and we kind of evolved past it. You know, like the appendix!

ceilingcat
Post 9

I think it's strange and interesting so many cultures have a tradition of piercing the earlobes. I mean, how do you even come up with something like that, you know?

Anyway, in most places I think pierced ears are pretty normal. I know some families have arguments about the right age for ear piercing though.

My friend just had a baby, and she wants to get her ears pierced as soon as possible. Her husband adamantly wants to wait til the baby gets a little older.

I personally don't really understand piercings your baby's ears myself. I got my ears pierced in 2nd grade and I don't remember being upset before that that I didn't have them.

cloudel
Post 8

I knew a kid with lumpy, creased earlobes. I always thought they looked so strange. I would stare at them without meaning to, and I hope he never noticed.

He was the only person I knew with abnormal lobes. Most of my friends had smooth, small earlobes. I wondered how his could be so fatty and wrinkled, because he wasn’t even overweight.

I guess his father must have had warped earlobes, because his mother’s ears looked normal. His dad died before he was born, so I will never know if he got his earlobes from him or not.

StarJo
Post 7

I have attached earlobes, and I am very grateful for that. In school, I saw a lot of kids with fat or lumpy detached earlobes, and I felt bad for them.

I know that even attached earlobes can become saggy over time, so I try to prevent this by wearing only lightweight earrings. My aunt wears gaudy, heavy earrings, and her saggy lobes freak me out. I never want to look like that.

I have always kept my hair long, but I’m not trying to hide my earlobes. I intend to keep it long for the rest of my life, so if I do have saggy lobes one day, no one will know it.

Oceana
Post 6

When I wear earrings, I sometimes get cysts in my earlobes. They only last about a day, and they disappear, but they are very lumpy and itchy while they are present.

I work from home, so I only wear earrings on the weekends when I go out. Because my earlobes haven’t been used to having earrings in them for several days, they sometimes rebel when I put them through the holes.

Within a few hours, lumpy cysts develop right around the holes. Sometimes they get better if I remove the earrings and coat the posts or hooks in an antiseptic cream before putting them back through the holes.

kylee07drg
Post 5

It seems that the further up the earlobe a piercing is, the more it hurts when you get it. When I was fourteen, I had my ears pierced for the first time, and though it was a bit painful, it was nothing like the next few holes.

When I turned seventeen, I had my second ear piercing just above the first. I was in substantially more pain for a longer period of time.

At my friend’s urging, I decided to go for a third hole a year later. My earlobes are not very big, so this one pierced more cartilage than flesh. It burned like fire!

andee
Post 4

I have a friend who has very long earlobes - quite a bit longer than an average person. This bothers her enough that she always makes sure her hair covers her ears.

She has never considered anything like earlobe reduction surgery and just makes sure her ears show as little as possible.

It is hard to say if I had longer earlobes like this if it would bother me that much as well. I don't think it is that noticeable, but it just really bothers her - enough that she never wants her ears to be sticking out.

honeybees
Post 3

I have had my ears pierced since I was a girl, but don't understand those people who want to stretch their earlobes. It would be interesting to have a conversation with someone and find out their reasons for doing so.

I have always had long hair, so even when I wear earrings you can't see my earlobes very well. I only have one piercing in each earlobe, but know many people who have more than one.

Since I was so young when I had my ears pierced, I don't remember much about it, but don't think I would go through the pain of having more holes put in my earlobes.

Sometimes it has been so long since I have worn earrings, that I hope my holes have not grown shut.

There really is a big difference in the size and shape of earlobes though. This is much more noticeable on people who wear their hair short.

jonrss
Post 2

Is anyone here a wrestler or a rugby player? I know that if you compete in one of these sports for a long period of time you can get deformed ears. i think they call it cauliflower ear. I know that I've seen it before when I've watched some of the pro rugby matches from the UK.

I am trying to get information about this condition because I have started playing pick up rugby and I'm really getting into it. I can see myself playing a lot more and I want to know if I need to worry about my ears. Am I at risk and is there anything I can do to prevent it from happening?

truman12
Post 1

I'm amazed at how many different piercings they can do on a persons ear these days. When I was a little girl people had just one piercing in each ear right on the flesh of the earlobe. Men never had earrings.

Now you go out and it seems like people have more metal than ears. And some people wear earrings that are bigger than their heads. I can't believe it. I know that styles change, but you have to wonder about the choices that some people make.

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