How the Ear Works

The ear consists of three main parts:

  • Outer Ear
  • Middle Ear
  • Inner Ear

The Outer Ear

The visible portion of your outer ear is called the pinna. The noises you hear in your daily life collect as sound waves and are channeled into the ear canal where the sound is amplified. The sound waves then travel toward a flexible, oval membrane at the end of the ear canal called the tympanic membrane (eardrum). When these waves reach your eardrum it begins to vibrate.

The Middle Ear

The vibrations from the eardrum set the ossicles into motion. The ossicles are the three tiny bones that are the smallest in the human body and are known as the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup). They all work together to further amplify and transmit the sound to your inner ear.

The stapes attaches to the oval window that which is a membrane-covered opening that leads from the middle ear to the inner ear. The eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the nasopharynx and is responsible for equalizing the air pressure between the the middle ear and your environment.

The Inner Ear

The sound waves enter the inner ear into a snail-shaped organ called the cochlea. The cochlea is filled with fluids that move in response to the vibrations from the oval window. As the fluid moves, thousands of nerve endings are set into motion and transform the vibrations into electrical impulses. These impulses travel along the auditory nerve to the brain.

The brain then interprets these signals and this is how we hear and understand. The inner ear also contains the vestibular organs that are responsible for balance.

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