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Hear and There: Don't Feel the Ear Burn

Scheck, Anne

doi: 10.1097/
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One of the sorest sunburn sites is the tops of the ears, a spot that too often is bypassed in sunscreen application. And when protective lotion is used, the ear in all its groovy glory makes even administration a challenge. With summer just around the corner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reviewed its recommendations for skin cancer prevention. For optimal protection, the agency advises wearing a hat with a brim that goes all the way around to shade the ears, face, and back of the neck. A tightly woven fabric like canvas works best to protect the skin from UV rays, while sunlight can slip through the holes of straw hats. When sporting a baseball cap, protect the ears and back of the neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using sunscreen with at least SPF 15, or keeping cool in the shade.

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In turtles, hearing is underwater. That is, their middle ear cavities enhance underwater hearing, meaning they should have lower hearing thresholds in an aquatic setting than in air, researchers reported in PLoS ONE (8[1]:e54086). This pattern of hearing aptitude theoretically applies to the terrestrial tortoise as well, as no significant differences were found in the scaling of middle ear cavity volumes with head width across the phylogenetic groups. These findings support an aquatic origin for turtles, with neutral selection most likely responsible for the maintained scaling, as not all turtles are aquatic or amphibious.

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Relative to the face that launched a thousand ships, the ear that started a war gets short shrift. Back in the 18th century, tensions between Spain and Great Britain were running high, particularly as they related to commercial interests and the Spanish colonies. In 1731, Spanish coast guards sliced off the ear of British sea captain Robert Jenkins, and attempts at diplomatic resolution throughout the decade only succeeded in stoking the conflict. When asked to testify before Parliament in 1738, Jenkins not only complied, but he brought his preserved ear along with him as a visual aid. The ear further stirred the bubbling pot, pushing a reluctant Sir Robert Walpole to declare war in 1739.

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The letters E-A-R mean something other than those two projections on either side of the head. In fact, as an abbreviation, EAR stands for 65 other things, at least according to Alternate meanings range from Estimated Average Requirement, which refers to the standard level of nutrients required by the average person, to the East African Rift. To put the acronym listing into perspective, EAR far outdistances EYE, which has just six meanings to its entry.

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