Space & Innovation

Why Old People Have Big Ears And Noses

Our hair and nails continue to grow until we die, but are there any other body parts that get bigger as we age?

The late baseball sage Yogi Berra once said that you can observe a lot by watching. And it's true. Watch a person age from 20 years old to 90 years old, and you may observe that the ears and the nose just keep getting bigger. Yogi himself was a prime example.

Actually, there's a reason that certain body parts get bigger, or at least seem to get bigger, as we age -- but the science behind it all may surprise you. Trace Dominguezhas the scoop in today's DNews report.

For most people, male and female, primary development ends around age 21. You're not likely to get any taller, and while your cells will continue to replace themselves throughout life, you're no longer growing as an organism, strictly speaking.

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So why do the ears and nose get demonstrably bigger as we age? It has to do with cartilage. The body has four basic types of tissue -- connective, epithelial, muscular, and nervous -- and each has unique properties. Cartilage is a connective tissue that can be thought of as the body's duct tape. It's extraordinarily versatile and useful, and is used to patch together other tissue all over the place.

Cartilage doesn't have blood vessels or nerves, however, and as such doesn't age and heal like other tissues. As cartilage gets older, it undergoes a kind of scarring processthat makes it thicker, heavier and less elastic. As you may have intuited, the structural elements of your nose and ears are made of cartilage.

So while nose and ears do get bigger as you age, they're not actually still growing. In fact, the enlargement is actually due to a kind of slow-motion reverse decay, in which the tissue gets bigger as it degenerates.

Check out Trace's report for more details, including some mythbusting around the belief that your hair and nails continue to grow after death.

-- Glenn McDonald

Read More:

LIVESTRONG.ORG: Symptoms of Torn Cartilage in the Ribs

LifeBridge Health: New Ways to Restore Joint Surface Damage

Exploring Nature Educational Resource: The 4 Basic Tissue Types in the Human Body