Are big ears the secret of a long life?

Why do men’s ears get bigger as they age? I don’t know, I told my editor, but I shall try to find out. Medical school teaches you a lot of things but this wasn’t one of them. The resource most likely to help answer such ponderables is PubMed, an online resource that replaced the book-bound Index Medicus, which was enormously large and hideously time-consuming.

PubMed tells us quite a bit about ears and age. In 1995 a general practitioner called James Heathcote wrote an entire paper in the British Medical Journal on this very subject. Four doctors measured the ears of patients aged 30 and over who were attending the surgery on unrelated matters. Among the 206 patients studied, the mean ear length was 67.5mm and, on average, ear size seemed to increase by 0.22mm per year. This proved, said the authors, that older people have bigger ears. Now, a number of criticisms could be made of the study – for example, the selection criteria might not have been random enough to reflect the general population – but the results are still fascinating, and prompted a number of responses.

A professor of clinical gerontology wrote to the journal to say that his Chinese grandmother had told him he should stretch his ears daily in order to ensure a long life. He also cited a paper from the American Journal of Medicine in which 108 patients were studied to see whether having a diagonal crease in the earlobe was a predictor of lifespan. They followed the patients for eight years, and found that those with a diagonal crease did die earlier from all causes. But, worrying though this is for those with creased skinflaps, it still doesn’t explain why ears get longer as we age.

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