A patient asked me the other day an interesting question….what is the purpose of earlobes? Having done a lot of cosmetic otoplasties and reconstruction of missing ear parts, making an earlobe look better or rebuilding it has always been an important part of making an ear. The most common earlobe procedure performed is that of a split earlobe repair, usually from wearing heavy ear rings over the years…or having an ear ring pulled on.
But I must admit I have never thought about the functional purpose of an earlobe. We all know that some earlobes are directly attached to the side of the face and others are separated and hang away from it…and there may be some medical significance to that as has been reported for risk of heart disease. But as to function….the obvious answer is it a good place to put earrings…which would suggest that it may have some value in sexual attraction and historically, gender differences. But that is hardly an evolutionary functional explanation.
Interestingly, the earlobe is the one part of the ear that has no cartilage and it plays no role in capturing sound as does the rest of the ear. I suspect the answer lies somewhere in that anatomic difference. It is not stiff for a reason. So it being mobile and flexible might have significance. Perhaps at one point in our evolutionary development the earlobe was larger and served a protective function for the ear canal (when we walked on all fours?) but there is no fossil evidence to indicate that this was so. I guess my answer must remain…I don’t know.
Dr Barry Eppley