Medically Reviewed by Gabriela Pichardo, MD on September 05, 2021
What Are Your Ears Telling You?

What Are Your Ears Telling You?

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What does it mean when your ears look a little different or hurt, ring, or itch? It could be a sign of something you might not think of when you think of your ears. 

Earlobe Crease

Earlobe Crease

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Also called “Frank’s sign” (after the doctor who first noticed it), a diagonal crease in your lobe may be a sign of heart disease. Scientists don’t know exactly what causes the crease, and not everyone who has it will have heart disease. If you notice you have one, talk to your doctor about it.  

Pits and Folds

Pits and Folds

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Babies can be born with conditions that affect how they develop. One of these, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, causes creases or small holes around the ear. The baby also may be bigger than usual and have a large tongue and low blood sugar. The syndrome doesn’t cause major health problems for most people who have it. But as the child grows, one side of their body may be larger than the other, and they can be more likely to get certain tumors.

Low-Set Ears

Low-Set Ears

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Two of the more common conditions linked to this are Down and Turner syndromes. Problems with a chromosome cause both. People with Down syndrome also have other physical differences and development issues. Turner syndrome can cause problems with how the head and the neck form, and issues with growth and puberty. Two rare conditions -- Shprintzen-Goldberg and Jacobsen syndromes -- also can cause low-set ears and development problems.

Missing External Ear

Missing External Ear

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This can be a sign of anotia -- a condition you’re born with. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it, but things in the environment and taking certain medications during pregnancy may play a part. It can happen by itself or along with another genetic condition. In most cases, doctors can form an outside ear with plastic surgery. 

Unusual Ear Shape

Unusual Ear Shape

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Even if it’s just a “skin tag” on the ear, it could be a sign of a problem with the way your kidneys work. That’s because a baby’s kidneys develop at the same time as the ears. If your doctor notices it on your newborn, she may want to test your baby’s kidneys or do an ultrasound to get a closer look.

Ringing in the Ears (Tinnitus)

Ringing in the Ears (Tinnitus)

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This is usually caused by something directly related to your ears -- like wax buildup or being around loud noises. But it also can be a sign of a problem with the joint where your jawbone meets your skull (the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ), or an injury to your neck or head, among other things. If you hear ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, or hissing sounds, see your doctor to find out what’s going on.

Itchy Ears

Itchy Ears

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A fungal infection or other ear irritation often causes this. Another possible reason is psoriasis, which happens when your immune system attacks your skin by mistake. It can be very painful if you have it on your ears, where your skin is thin. It can happen outside and inside your ear and may lead to a buildup of dead skin that makes it hard for you to hear. There's no cure for psoriasis, but your doctor can help you manage symptoms. 

Earache

Earache

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This can be a sign of an ear infection, throat infection, a buildup of earwax or fluid, an abscessed tooth, or you might grind your teeth. See your doctor if you or your child has an earache that doesn’t get better in a day or so, or comes with fever, vomiting, throat pain, discharge from the ear, or swelling around it. You also should call the pediatrician if your child is younger than 6 months and you think they might have an earache.

Show Sources

IMAGES PROVIDED BY:

  1. Getty Images
  2. Science Source
  3. Atlas Genetics Oncology
  4. The Marfan Foundation
  5. Centers for Disease Control
  6. Medical Images
  7. Medical Images
  8. Thinkstock Photos
  9. Thinkstock Photos

 

American Diabetes Association: “Diabetes and Hearing Loss.”

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: “Causes of Hearing Loss in Adults.”

Children’s National Health System: “Pediatric Ear Malformations.”

Harvard Health Publications: “Got an ear full? Here's some advice.”

LiveScience: “How to Get Rid of Earwax.”

Mayo Clinic: “Ear Infection,” “Tinnitus.”

National Health Service (UK): “Earache.”

National Institutes of Health: “Syndromic ear anomalies and renal ultrasounds,” “Shprintzen-Goldberg syndrome,” “Jacobsen syndrome,” “Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome,” “Frank’s sign: a potential predictor of cardiovascular disease,” “Middle ear infection: Overview.”

Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance: “Psoriasis and Sensitive Areas.”

Stanford School of Medicine: “What is the name of this sign?”

The Microtia -- Congenital Ear Deformity Institute: “About Microtia.”

University of Delaware: “Earwax type: The Myth, The Reality.”

University of Texas: “Itchy Ears.”