Horns are conical projections growing out from the head, that are composed of the protein keratin the same substance that our hairs and nails are made of. This protein surrounds a core of a bony outgrowth. Sometimes it is just the bony protrusion, covered with a coat of fur.
Author: Pitamber Kaushik
‘Cutaneous horns’, are keratinous skin tumors that look like horns. They may even resemble wood or coral. It is a general term to describe ‘any conical projection above the surface of the skin’, although incidences are much likelier at the head and hands, than at other parts of the body.
This had led to the correlation of horn growth with radiation exposure. Exposure to Sunlight is speculated to be one of the factors to trigger the condition. HPV Viruses have also been suggested as causative behind some of them. Sometimes, these horns can be cancerous.
Madame Dimanche, a Parisian woman nicknamed Widow Sunday, had a 9.8 inch horn emanating from her forehead. It grew for six years, since the time she was aged 76, before it was surgically removed. It is on display at the Mutter Museum. Typically, long horns occur in the ripe-elderly.
Horns have traditionally symbolized nefarious creatures and demonic beings, particularly with Christian symbol. People with pronounced warts and horns have been treated with stigma, fear or loathing, in various cultures and societies.
The shope papilloma virus results in hornlike growths on rabbits, a potential source behind myths such as the Wolpertinger and the Jackalope.
A new Research paper suggests that a new form of ‘horns’ may be developing in human skulls. However, unlike cutaneous horns, these horns are made of bone, not keratin.
The places where tendons and ligaments join to the bones are called entheses. The enthesis serves to distribute force over a large bony area, as it is a vulnerable joint of soft and hard tissue. This also makes it prone to sprouting of outgrowths, in a bid to increase the surface area over which jerks and stresses are distributed.
When our evolutionary ancestors started walking on two legs, factors such as balancing the head, and a changed diet (which needed less severe chewing) led to softening of features in the head.
Scientists recently found out that sizable bony outgrowths were emerging in the skulls of two in every five young adults. But here’s the catch. Bony protrusions were historically common in old people’s skulls, as affirmed by medical records.
They slowly developed over time, in response to the stresses they were subjected to. The stresses over lifetime amassed them, and they were regarded as parts of a normal ageing process.
However, very recent records report increasing incidences of these protrusions in young adults. The age wise distribution of occurrence of these ‘skull horns’, has drastically shifted young-ward. A general increase in the incidences has also been observed – it seems that this feature is becoming quite prevalent.
According to the current studies, a third of the population presently exhibits this feature a downward facing fin-shaped protrusion jutting out of the rear-lower portion of the skull.
Sex, Age and Forward Head Protraction the leaning or jutting of the head forwards for prolonged periods of time, are all factors that determine the incidence and extent of this ‘horn’. It is 5.5 times likelier to occur in males than in females.
The average extent of Forward Head Protraction in the male population was 28 ± 15 mm, while that for the female population was recorded to be 24 ± 11 mm. It also showed that sexagenarians and above, had the highest head protraction, above 40 millimeters.
Interestingly, the Forward Head Protraction was significantly higher in the 18-30 age group than in the 30s age group. Forward Head Protraction should normally, increase with age – initially gradually, and upon hitting old age, drastically. But the 18-30 age group seems to walk out of the line.
As age itself is an explicit and direct contributor to horn incidence, age being an implicit cause vested in FHP, another factor to it, compounds its influence. Unexpectedly, each decade’s increment of age resulted in a 1.03 reduction in the likelihood of having an enlarged skull outgrowth.
Sampling analyses showed that the 18–30 age-group was much more likely to present with an enlarged skull protrusion, while it was unlikely to occur across any of the other age categories. So what could the anomaly be attributed to?
Phones! Handheld gadgetry has been held the likely culprit. Late-teens have depicted a 40+ percent prevalence of enlarged skull protrusions. Not that the outgrowths only qualified for the count, if they were greater than 10 millimetres in size. The findings indicated that the ‘horn’ is a result of increased load on the enthesis, likely a consequence of prolonged poor posture.
The researchers have a hypothesis continuous maintenance of head in a forward-poised posture, (as frequently observed in gaming, browsing, and social media usage) has heavily influenced this novel trend. Because these stresses are exerted and maintained for long periods of time, the body devises means to adapt to it horns are one such measure.
This growth is directed at bolstering the robustness of the skull, in order to better cope with the chronic load. It has also been suggested that prevalence among females is slightly lower, as they spend shorter sessions on gadgetry i.e. in the form of briefer spells punctuated by breaks.
Higher gaming and movie-viewing amongst males has been cited to explain the significant gender disparity in occurrence of the horns. Previously, activities as bike riding and sleeping with a high pillow had been considered as potential causative, but did not coincide with the statistics.
The study found that prior to 1996, the FHP value was sizable lesser than that following the “Handheld-Device Revolution” which transpired in its wake. Portable Video Gaming and Cell Phones revolutionized our lifestyles.
It does well to disambiguate this short-term adaptation, from evolution. This is a trait that has already evolved the ability to grow the load-shedding measure. The horn emergence is not evolution per se. The adaptation ability lies inherent in our bodies.
As the ‘horn development’ is a slow process, involving collagen-protein production, consistent maintenance of poor posture is necessitated for it. This strongly links the phone usage device revolution to increased horn occurrence amongst the youth .
When the average young-adult spends 4-5 hours gazing at a handheld screen in a distinctly static posture, the correlation is unmistakable.
In the era of digitization of every aspect of our life, and ever-increasing emphasis on portability and handiness, there exist unforeseen consequences to be wary of.
From ‘affecting the brain’ to ‘deforming the thumb’, if technology takes a visible toll on us, at such an early stage, what does the future of our lives hold?