Ear

Your ear is an organ whose purpose is for hearing and balance, it’s divided into three parts: external, middle, and inner ear. Each section of the ear has its distinct pieces. The ear is made up of a total of three bones: anvil, hammer, and stirrup which together is called the Ossicles. Although the ear is a small part of the body, it is very necessary and serves a significant role.

Functions of the Ear

The two functions of the ear include balance and hearing. Hearing works based on vibration. Sound travels in waves. When the waves hit the ear, it causes the eardrum to vibrate. The ossicles pass those waves onto the membrane of the inner ear. Once those vibrations hit the inner ear, it is turned to fluid and nerves send signals to the brain to interpret the sound.  

earYou may not think your balance has anything to do with your ear, but it is a primary function of the ear. We as humans are always moving around and turning our heads and most of the time have no trouble with being off balance. Balance maintenance is due to the sensory organs, brain, eyes, and neurons all working together. As we move around, both the cerebral cortex and cerebellum cooperate to adapt the body to the changes going on with head movement and speed. When there are ear abnormalities, specifically in the inner ear, that can throw off balance.

Parts of the Ear

Outer Ear

The ear is a small organ that is very detailed. It has many parts but surprisingly only three bones. The ear is made up mostly of cartilage. The outer ear is made of the auricle, earlobe,  auditory canal, and outer eardrum. The part that we see is the auricle; the earlobe is an extension of the auricle. The auricle is all cartilage covered by skin. The new trend is cartilage piercings, but the scientifically correct name would be auricle piercings. The auditory canal is the same as the ear canal. It is a hollow space that sound waves can travel through to get to the ear drum. The outer eardrum also known as the outer tympanic membrane is the membrane the sound waves will have to pass through to get to the inner ear.

The Middle Ear

The middle ear houses the eardrum, cavity, and ossicles (hammer, anvil, and stirrup). All the bones of the ear are located in the middle ear. The eardrum is the part of the ear that vibrates once sound hits it. The ear drum is the tympanic membrane itself. The cavity is also called the tympanic cavity which is another hollow space that houses the ossicles. The three bones attach to that tympanic membrane. I have referred to the bones as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, which are named based on their shape, but the proper names are malleus, incus, and stapes respectively. In the middle ear, the vibration of ear drum along with the ossicles amplifies the sound waves and condenses the waves from air to liquid.

Inner Ear

The inner ear called the labyrinth, houses the oval window, semicircular ducts, cochlea, and auditory tube. The oval window is a tiny oval opening covered by a membrane that connects the middle ear to the inner ear. The semicircular ducts are necessary for balance. These ducts are filled with fluid and connect to both the cochlea and nerves. These ducts send information to the nerves which send the information to the brain on where the head is positioned and information on balance. The cochlea is the generator of sound. The Organ of Corti is a spiral-shaped organ inside the cochlea. The Organ of Corti has hair cells that detect the sound and assist the cochlear nerve in transmitting the signal to the brain. The auditory tube drains the fluid condensed from the middle ear and sends it to the throat. It is in the auditory tube where many children tend to have ear pain. Sometimes the fluid does not drain properly, and inflammation can occur.

The vibrations in the ear create a domino effect that leads to hearing. Once the vibrations travel through the middle ear, it hits the last bone known as the stirrup. The stirrup then pushes the oval window which in turn moves the cochlea. Now the air has already been condensed to liquid; it is no longer air vibrations but now the fluid vibrations in the semicircular ducts that as stated earlier turns those sounds into signals which are interpreted by the brain. The nerves that are responsible for transporting the signals to the brain are vestibular and cochlear nerves.

Ear Problems

The ear can be a source of a lot of medical problems. A few common ones include ear infections (otitis media, swimmers ear), ruptured eardrums, tinnitus, and cerumen impaction. These are not considered dangerous, but they do cause quite a bit of pain and discomfort. More severe diagnosis are vertigo, acoustic neuroma, Meniere’s disease, and Mastoiditis. Many of these conditions can cause hearing loss or vertigo. Vertigo is the sensation of spinning you may feel due to inner ear issues. It typically leaves a person unbalanced and leads to a host of other symptoms.

It is important to take care of your ears just like any other part of your body. It is necessary to clean your ears to prevent wax build up or cerumen impaction. You should also be careful about listening to noises that are too loud. Keep the music in your headphones down and when going to places that require ear plugs such as the NASCAR races, do not take the earplugs out unless you are at a safe distance. Loud noises can rupture your eardrum and over time cause hearing loss. Preserve your hearing by taking care of yourself. Although your ears are small, they are vital.

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