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.
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.