4. Ears 2 U!

HearResponsibly Yours, Musings from a Seasoned Hearing Scientist

Ears are for hearing, right?

Except we put them to so many other uses. Worn your glasses without parking them on top of your ears lately? There’s a long tradition of hanging decorative jewelry on ears for both women and men, sometimes to extreme stretching and enlargement (yikes!).

The 7 Biggest Ear Piercing Trends of 2022, With Photos | Allure

Ears are probably not the most naturally beautiful body parts, but the soft cartilage around the earlobes and the firmer upper portion have been popular locations for body art for probably thousands of years (and millions of ears). In many households, baby girls get their first ear piercings before they are old enough to speak their consent… or protest.   

There are vestigial muscles at the back of the ear which allows some people to wiggle them.  The original survival purpose for focusing and attending to potentially dangerous, or possibly edible, sounds has long ago declined in importance for humans. But it is fun to watch the controlled ear twitching of dogs, rabbits, horses and many other mammals. 

The cupped portion of the ear (concha) which helps funnel sounds into the sense organ is easily exaggerated by placing the hand around the ear in the familiar “What?” gesture of someone struggling to hear.  Of course, plugging the ears when a particularly shrill emergency vehicle passes is a more recent reflexive gesture.  We’ll talk about the risks of loud noise in a future piece.

When it’s bitter cold, covering the ears is a natural inclination – cartilage is harder to keep warm than fat, and there’s no fat tissue in the ear structures. So, earmuffs, which were invented by a 15-year-old boy in 1873 (patented in 1877), are a less ancient, but practical, addition to all the things we put on and into our ears. Then, of course, there’s all the much more recent entertainment and communication devices filling up the ‘ear space’ – yet another topic of its own in a future post.

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