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What are the different types of ear shapes?

Last update on Nov, 28, 2023

Have you ever cupped your hand behind your ear, hoping to hear a sound more clearly? By trying to increase the outer size of your ear, you were altering the ear shape to improve the sound that the inner workings could pick up. Ears come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, affecting the way you hear and even holding some clues to your overall well-being.

How do we get our ear shape?

External ears

Take a look at old family photos, and you’ll probably find at least one relative whose ears are the size and shape of yours. While there are many different ear shapes in the world, types of ear shapes tend to run in families.

How does the shape of your ear help you hear?

The outside portions of the ear are called pinnae or auricula. The shape of an ear helps it work the way a funnel does when it narrows down a liquid’s flow into a vessel. In the case of your ears, the outer part collects and amplifies sound waves, then directs them into the ear canal.

While ear shape and hearing quality aren’t always connected, ear size can matter. If you have an especially small ear canal, for example, it could have a negative effect on how much you’re able to hear.

Do ears keep growing as you age?

The ears grow slowly as we age, and through time, many parts of our bodies are affected by the loss of collagen. When soft ear tissues lose collagen, they tend to droop and sag, also making them look bigger. 

Different ear shapes

There are as many different ear shapes as there are people. However, scientists have isolated a number of general types of ear shapes, as described below. 

A normal ear shape is usually formed like the letter C, created by the formation of the helix (outermost ridge) and earlobe.

Doctors define prominent ears or protruding ears as ones that, regardless of size, stick out more than 2 centimeters from the side of the head.

Whether or not your earlobes are free or attached is another genetic factor. If parents' genes express the dominant allele, their child will be born with free earlobes.

But if parents with free earlobes give birth to a baby with attached earlobes, both will have a copy of the dominant and recessive allele. Attached earlobes are less common. The lobes of an attached ear are generally small, and they are attached directly to the side of the head.

An average man’s ear measures about six centimeters, while a typical woman’s is about five centimeters. They’re classified as big ears when they’re larger than those averages.

A small ear, or low-set ear, is defined as such when the auricular axis (an imaginary line that passes through the longest dimension of the ear) is less than two inches in size

When the scapha area of the ear—the groove between the helix (outermost ridge) and the antihelix (the inner ridge)—contains a cartilage fold in the middle, it can create a prominent appearance and pointed shape, called an “elf ear” or “Spock ears.” 

When the curved cartilage on the top of the outer ear (helix) doesn’t develop completely, the top of the ear folds over, causing a folded ear.

Hard ears vs. soft ears can be categorized this way: Hard ears, also known as “petrified ears,” are created through calcification of the auricular cartilage, usually because of trauma, frostbite or inflammation. Soft ears, a term that really refers to soft cartilage in the outer ear, are more common in infants.
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Your ears may become clogged due to an earwax buildup. If this happens, get your ears properly examined. Find your nearest Miracle-Ear store and schedule an appointment with one of our hearing professionals to learn what’s causing your ears to feel clogged.

Can your ear shape influence your health?

If ears have not developed properly, that different ear shape could lead to complications, including everything from cosmetic issues to hearing and development problems. An estimated 1 in 3,800 children are born with types of ear shapes that indicate a congenital ear deformity.

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Types of ear deformities

These are some of the most common deformities of the human ear:

Constricted ears are also called lop ears or cup ears. They occur when the outer part of the ear is either wrinkled, folded or flat. 

Cryptotia happens when the upper part of the ear is buried underneath the skin of the temples. It’s often treated with surgery, using existing skin, skin grafting or tissue expansion.

Microtia happens when the external ear is small and not formed properly. Researchers estimate that about 1 in every 3,800 babies is born with anotia or microtia in the United States annually.

Anotia means that the external ear is completely missing. It can affect one or both ears and can be corrected with surgery.

Caused by misshapen cartilage, Stahl's ear is often associated with Finlay-Marks, a rare genetic syndrome.

While they aren’t necessarily harmful to your health, ear tags are small growths of skin on the front of the ear. They may occur as expressions of genetic syndromes such as Goldenhar syndrome, hemifacial microsomia or first and second branchial arch syndrome. Ear tags in newborns might indicate potential problems with kidney function.

Congenital earlobe deformities can include clefts, duplicate earlobes, and earlobes with skin tags. “Frank's sign,” named after the doctor who first noticed it, is a diagonal crease in the lobe that may be a sign of heart disease.

If you’re curious about how your ear shape affects your hearing, talk to a hearing care professional and get a hearing test done. Miracle-Ear offers free, no-obligation hearing tests to help you discover any issues with your hearing.

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One of the best ways to care for your ears and prevent hearing loss is to get them properly examined by a hearing professional. Find your nearest Miracle-Ear store to get started on your journey to better hearing.

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