They are this season's evening-wear essential - chandelier earrings, such as the enormous emerald pair worn by Angelina Jolie at this year's Oscars. But with such weight hanging off delicate lobes, doctors are reporting an increase in earlobe damage as well as women asking for earlobe reductions.
James McDiarmid, a consultant plastic surgeon based in Plymouth and Cheltenham, says in the past year he has seen a rise of about 20 per cent in patients requesting repair work. 'I see one or two private patients per week requesting split or stretched earlobe repair. Many of them have both ears affected.
Angelina Jolie wearing her chandelier earrings
'Heavy earrings are back in fashion. The weight stretches the piercing hole and because of their size they are also at greater risk of getting caught and tearing the ear.'
The earlobe or lobule is on average 2cm long and made of fatty connective tissue. It does not have a biological function. Since the lobe does not contain cartilage, like the rest of the outer ear, it has a large blood supply and - due to its multiple nerve endings - is considered an erogenous zone.
Whether your earlobe is 'free' or 'attached' is an inherited genetic trait. And while creases on the actual lobe are part of the ageing process, they are also indicators of an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Carolina Lehrian, from Streatham, South London, had reconstruction on her torn right lobe caused by years of wearing what she calls 'Joan Collins-style Dynasty danglies' since the Eighties.
'I was aware that the piercing hole had enlarged, but it wasn't until three years ago that friends started to point out that my earring was about to fall out,' she says.
'I noticed that I had a deep slit about half a centimetre long and it looked horrible,' says Carolina, 45, director of a translationand voice-over company.
'It was only one ear, which I've since learned is very common, as the weight of the earring is exacerbated when you are on the phone, for instance, and don't realise you are pushing it down with the receiver.
'I also used to dry my hair while wearing earrings and the hairbrush would often snag on the right side where there was already damage. That really would hurt and sometimes it would bleed.'
Carolina stopped wearing her chandeliers and replaced them with studs or very lightweight drops. However, the hole had become so enlarged that although a stud would cover it, she had to get special plastic backs because the normal butterfly clips were too small, resulting in the whole earring falling out through the hole.
'Sometimes I even used a large piece of cork as a stopper,' she says.
'My ear looked unsightly and I started getting really self-conscious. But it was only when a friend told me that she'd had corrective surgery for this problem that I realised I could do something about it.
The hole truth: Carolina Lehrian, who had surgery on her right earlobe
Unfortunately, the procedure cannot be done on the NHS so I went privately.'
The plastic surgeon who repaired Carolina's ear, Roberto Viel of the London Centre for Aesthetic Surgery in Harley Street, explains that the soft tissue in the lobe becomes stretched from the weight of the earring until the hole becomes a straight vertical opening.
'Significant weight or trauma can pull through tissue,' he says. 'This can take years or just months, depending on how often such heavy earrings are worn, how soft the tissue is and whether the patient fiddles with their earrings all the time.
Most patients come to see me before the ear has split all the way down, but I have seen those who have left it until the bottom has also split.'
In order to reconstruct the tear, Viel applies local anaesthetic to numb the lobe then cuts a margin of skin on both sides of the split to expose the tissue underneath and remove it, thus creating a raw edge on which to rebuild.
The edges are then brought together and sewn back with minute non-dissolvable stitches that are removed about a week later.
Ears can be repierced eight to ten weeks after the procedure, but care must then be taken to wear lighter earrings or clip-ons and avoid further damage. A secondary cause of ear disfiguration is ageing.
Earlobes grow as we age and just as breast tissue and the jawline droops over time, so does the tissue in the earlobe, making it appear longer.
'If you were born with long earlobes, they will look much worse as you get older than someone who was born with short, neat lobes. Reducing the length of the lobe is becoming a common operation, particularly among men, who appear to be affected by this more noticeably than women,' says Viel.
The reduction of the lobe is done by marking a curved line at the back of the ear to give it shape, followed by amputation to take away the excess tissue so the ear looks neater and therefore younger. This can be done with a local anaesthetic because the earlobes do not contain cartilage.
Creases that run diagonally down the side of the ear are also a sign of ageing - they are simply wrinkles, according to Viel, but he says that most women are more preoccupied with other problems such as crow's feet and nose-to-mouth lines and miss this key sign of getting older.
'And as heavy earrings can also cause these natural creases to become worse over time, there's only one real answer - don't wear them,' Viel advises.
Dynasty-style danglies - and the rise of the lobe lift | Mail Online