How the ear works
The ear is divided into three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.
The outer ear
The outer ear includes the pinna (the visible/external part of our ears), the external ear canal, and the eardrum.
The middle ear
The middle ear contains the smallest bones in the body: the malleus, the incus, and the stapes (also known as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup.) The middle ear also includes the eustachian tubes, which is an air duct leading down to the back of the nasal sinus.
The inner ear
The inner ear contains the cochlea, the first organ of the nerve of hearing, and the semi-circular canals, which are responsible for balance.
From sound to information
Sound is gathered by the pinna and is routed into the external ear canal so that it can strike the eardrum. As the eardrum vibrates, it moves sound through the three bones in the middle ear, moving from the cochlea in the inner ear from there. The cochlea converts energy into information that is then sent through the auditory nerve up to the brain.
The vulnerabilities of the outer, middle, and inner ear
There are numerous conditions that can affect the function of the outer ear. They include ear infections (often referred to as swimmer’s ear), wax impactions, foreign object blockage, physical deformities (which may or may not be present at birth), and post-operative disconfiguration.
Conditions that affect the middle ear include traumatic injuries (which can tear the eardrum or cause a break in the little bones), fluid accumulation (from sinus infection or allergies), birth defects, and hereditary pathologies.
Damage to the inner ear can be caused by traumatic injury or skull fracture, hereditary problems, loud noise exposure, and numerous other medical conditions, including certain ototoxic medications.
Having a better understanding of how your ears convert sound into information can help you collaborate with your provider to create better hearing solutions for a lifetime.