Old people = large ears/noses?
September 20, 2006 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Are old people's (particularly men's) ears and noses as large as they seem? Or is it some sort of age-based illusion? And if my eyes do not deceive me, why are they that way?

I seem to notice that lots and lots of old people--particularly men, as mentioned above--have quite large ears and noses. It seems that many other people have noticed this as well. Is this actually the case, and if so, is it as common as it seems, and what causes it? Are we talking just an increase in droopiness (i.e. old flesh gets saggy with time) or are these two organs really just growing at a rate that outpaces everything else?

This is on my list of life's most important and curious questions. Please enlighten me! With proof if possible!
posted by jckll to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Here is a relatively thorough but somewhat inconclusive answer. It says that ears really do get bigger as we age, but the reason why is harder to determine. However, you are clearly not the only one who wonders about this.
posted by ulotrichous at 9:34 AM on September 20, 2006

I've always heard that the ears and nose keep growing throughout a man's life...
posted by ImJustRick at 9:35 AM on September 20, 2006

Also, Why do old men have big ears?
posted by fire&wings at 9:35 AM on September 20, 2006

Does that happen to any other body parts?
posted by thirteenkiller at 9:41 AM on September 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

Men are much more likely to develop rhinophyma, which was the cause of WC Fields bulbous nose. That might account for part of your observation.
Not wishing to hijack the thread, but is there a word for big nose fetish?
posted by roofus at 9:46 AM on September 20, 2006

I always thought it had to do with aging cartilidge -- which is what makes up most of your nose and ears. It kind of relaxes, expands, droops.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:03 AM on September 20, 2006

As you age your skin becomes less plump and more prone to sagginess, while your nose and ears are full of cartilege that helps them maintain structural integrity. So while the rest of your face (particularly your cheeks) sags and sinks in, your nose and ears appear larger by comparison than they did when your face was fuller. Watch some of those "extreme makeovers" and you'll notice the same thing: after extreme weight loss people's nose and ears often look huge. My post would appear to directly contradict croutonsupafreak. Hmmm...
posted by junkbox at 10:07 AM on September 20, 2006

The lenses of your eyes also continue to grow, which is what causes age-related presbyopia.
posted by adamrice at 10:12 AM on September 20, 2006

Gravity probably plays a role as well.
posted by convex at 10:14 AM on September 20, 2006

Also you start to lose collagen and fat in your face which makes the extremities (ears and nose) look bigger.
posted by radioamy at 12:22 PM on September 20, 2006

The good news: you can cover your nose with your bottom lip.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:48 PM on September 20, 2006

Unless lots of the old men I see started out with heads bigger than Arvidas Sabonis's, I think your observation must reflect a real phenomenon.

Folk wisdom also has it that big noses come from alcoholism (remember how the boy protagonist in Robert Duvall's Angelo My Love shouted "alcoholic bignose!" at some adversary?).

I would guess that somatomedins, which are peptide growth hormones produced mainly by the liver, may be responsible. Somatomedins do promote the growth of cartilage, and it's fairly easy to imagine a scenario in which repeated cycles of damage and regeneration of the liver typical of chronic alcoholism cause periodic overabundances of somatomedins which in turn, over the years, cause the nose to get bigger and bigger. In the case of the elderly, you may be seeing merely the accumulated effects of a lifetime of exposure to these hormones.
posted by jamjam at 1:56 PM on September 20, 2006

why are they that way?
At risk of deletion, I can't resist: The better to eat you with, my dear!
posted by beagle at 2:07 PM on September 20, 2006

And wondering what's up with the down inside these ever-growing organs? Dr. Koop has the answer:
[In later years, b]ody and facial hair are also lost, but the hairs that remain may become coarser. Some women may notice ... that they have coarse facial hair, especially on the chin and around the lips. Men may find the hair of their eyebrows, ears, and nose becoming longer and coarser.
posted by rob511 at 3:52 PM on September 20, 2006

Alcohol can't be to blame for all of it. My grandpa -- who's probably had all of 10 glasses of wine in his life -- has some of the biggest ears I've ever seen. And his nose appears to have doubled in size from age 60 to age 85.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:55 PM on September 20, 2006

i've always heard that cartiledge (nose, ears, etc) keeps growing throughout your life, while bone stops growing; the rate is simply so slow that it doesn't become apparent until late in life.
posted by ab3 at 2:04 AM on September 21, 2006

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