Anatomy of the Earlobe

Fleshy Lower Part of the Outer Ear

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The earlobe (lobulus auriculae) is the soft, fleshy part of the outer ear. Without cartilage, the earlobe contains a large blood supply with many nerve endings. For some, the earlobes are an erogenous zone.

Genetics play a part in whether the earlobes are attached to the neck or if they dangle free. Earlobes are not thought to have any biological purpose.

Occasionally, earlobes may become swollen. If they do, it is often due to allergies, infection, or injury. Ear piercings done in the earlobe can sometimes become inflamed or infected

A white-presenting person's earlobe under a head of short, black and gray hair

binabina / E+ / Getty Images

Anatomy

The outer ear, also called the auricle or pinna, is made up of cartilage and skin. The earlobe, also called the lobule, is primarily fleshy and full of blood and nerve endings.

The earlobe contains no cartilage. On some people, the earlobe attaches to the neck or face (known as “attached” earlobes). On others it dangles free (known as “free” earlobes). Free earlobes are more common than attached.

Genetics play a role in the size and shape of the earlobe. There is some dispute about how genetics determine whether a person is born with attached or free earlobes.

In the past, scientists believed that unattached earlobes carried a single dominant gene, while free earlobes carried a recessive gene. A more recent, large-scale study though, identified six genetic variants associated with earlobe attachment.

Some anatomical variations of earlobes include duplicate earlobes, and clefts. Bite injuries and tears in the earlobe can also result in the lobe being misshapen. Sometimes earlobes can split due to heavy earrings.

Function 

Earlobes do not serve a known biological function. The large blood supply in the earlobes may contribute to keeping the ear warm.

Studies have found that earlobes continue to grow as people age. Why this happens is not fully understood. Some scientists believe that over time, the earlobe may simply sag and stretch, making them appear bigger or longer.

One older study found that ear circumference, in particular, increases on average 0.51 millimeters (mm) per year.  Ear growth may be associated with changes in collagen as people age.

Associated Conditions 

Earlobes can present with a number of skin conditions and physical abnormalities. Often, these are related to injuries, infections, and birth defects.

Congenital cleft earlobe is rare and happens when the earlobe does not fuse during embryologic development, leaving a split in the tissue. Duplicate earlobes are another congenital development, where more than one earlobe forms.

Small, bumpy growths of extra skin, called skin tags, can develop nearly anywhere, including the earlobe. Skin tags don’t require intervention unless they are bothersome, at which point a dermatologist can remove them.

Cysts are fluid-filled sacs under the skin that can develop as a result of a hair follicle or oil gland becoming blocked. Most cysts are benign and may go away on their own. If they persist, a physician can drain them.

Injuries and infections in the earlobes can happen when the earlobe gets bitten by an animal or insect or caught in something. Many earlobe injuries are the result of a piercing that gets snagged or tears through the earlobe.

Some studies have pointed to evidence of a correlation between the presence of bilateral diagonal earlobe creases (DELCs), also known as “Frank’s sign,” and heart disease. DELCs alone, however, are not considered a definitive predictor of heart disease.

Treatment 


Most issues common to the earlobe can be diagnosed by a physician during an office visit. Congenital birth defects, injuries, and infections of the earlobe can often be corrected and treated.

While some congenital birth defects of the earlobe will self-correct over time, other times they can be treated with ear molding or surgery. Ear molding uses a molding appliance that is worn over the ear for a period of time, usually a couple of weeks. Ear molding is most effective in newborns in the first couple of weeks of life.

Skin tags often do not require intervention, but if they are bothersome a dermatologist may remove them by freezing them (cryotherapy), removing them with a scalpel, or burning them off (electrosurgery). All of the methods are procedures that can be done in a doctor’s office.

Cysts that are painful and persistent may require drainage. To drain a cyst, a physician will make a small incision in the cyst after numbing the area first with a local anesthetic.

Earlobe tears may require surgery to repair. Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors, plastic surgeons, and dermatologists can all repair torn earlobes. 

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6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

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