How does age affect ear and nose growth?

Our bodies change significantly as we get older, inevitably reflecting more years on earth. When it comes to our ears and noses, we often repeat the notion that these parts of our bodies never stop growing, which is why they tend to look oversized on our minds when we reach our senior years. But is there any truth to this and what really happens to our ears and nose as we age?

We don’t simply keep growing

Most of us will stop growing at around the age of 20. This is the point at which the majority of people will be the size that they are going to stay for the rest of their lives. The skeleton has finished growing at this point and the growth plates between bones are fused closed. Once this happens, there’s no way for bones to continue to grow, even the small bones in the ears and the nose. There are two exceptions to this: the pelvis and the skull. However, the growth that happens in these areas is microscopic - perhaps an inch in diameter in the pelvis over 60 years, for example. The skull tends to grow a tiny amount, becoming more prominent around the forehead. 

So, why do our ears and noses look larger as we get older?

What’s actually happening is that you’re starting to notice the impact of gravity, and changes to your skin, on your body. The muscles, skin and cartilage in the body do continue to change even once bone growth has stopped happening. It’s these softer areas that are more likely to be responsible for what we perceive to be growth changes when it comes to the ears and nose. Changes can be triggered by a very wide range of different circumstances, from injuries to whether we lose or gain weight, experience pregnancy or an injury. All these - as well as the passage of time - will have an impact on the connective tissue in skin and cartilage, leading to the changes that we tend to notice in ears and nose as we age.

What’s actually happening to our ears and noses?

Cartilage tends to wear down over time. This is a flexible body tissue that is tougher than skin but not as solid as our bones. When it starts to sag a little it stops providing support to the skin above and it’s this that can make ears look like they have increased in size, for example. Other changes to your face can also have an impact on the appearance of the ears and nose, for example, a thinning of the lips over time making the nose look bigger, or a looser jawline that then highlights ear lobes that hang lower than they once did.

How can you stop this from happening?

Everyone will experience these same changes as we age and most of the time they are completely normal. There are, of course, some options for slowing down the impact of aging, such as a rhinoplasty, which can correct changes to the nose.

Although it often seems like our ears and nose are increasing in size as we age, in fact, they are just going through a normal process of softening that all of us experience.

Harley Street is the UK's foremost private medical centre which is dedicated to providing high-quality care for your ear, nose, throat, head & neck, and balance-related disorders. Find out more information on how Harley Street ENT can help you here.

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