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What Your Ears Say About Your Health

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Your ears provide important information about your health.

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.


A crease in your earlobe may be a sign of heart disease.

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 around the ear at birth may signal a congenital disorder affecting other body systems.

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 his body may be larger than the other, and he can be more likely to get certain tumors.


Low-set ears may be a sign of a chromosomal disorder.

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.


A missing external ear is a congenital birth defect that can be corrected with plastic surgery.

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.


A skin tag on the ear may be a sign of kidney trouble.

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.


Tinnitus may point to a problem with ear wax buildup, TMJ issue, or something else.

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 may be a sign of fungal infection, psoriasis, or another condition.

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.


An earache may be due to an ear infection, wax buildup, or another problem.

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 he might have an earache.

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