Your ears contain several distinct parts, and each is a part of either the inner, middle or outer ear. The parts of your ear are all essential to the proper functioning of this organ, and the ability of your brain to correctly interpret the sounds collected by the ear.
The various parts of your ear will allow your body to capture sound waves from the air. These are translated into vibrations, and then those signals are sent to the brain for interpretation. If any part of this complex system is damaged, you may have difficulty in hearing, or you could lose hearing in the affected ear all together. If you understand the ear’s inner workings, it will aid you in understanding what needs to be done to encourage positive ear safety and health.
What are the Parts of the Ear?
Your ear is a vital link in your sensory system. It is the main portion of your auditory system, translating sound waves into signals that can be properly interpreted by the brain.
While your ear helps your body to gather auditory messages, it also aids in the maintenance of proper position of your head. The fluid within your ears helps your body to maintain a true sense of balance, allowing you to have proper coordination and posture.
There are three main parts of your ear – the inner, middle and outer ear. Each part contains sub-parts that are vital to proper ear function.
The Outer Ear
This part of the ear consists of cartilage and flesh, and it sits on the exterior of your skull. It is the visible ear part and it protects your eardrum. It is also the part responsible for collecting and guiding sound waves into your middle ear.
Outer Ear Parts & Functions
- The pinnae, or ear flap, is the outermost ear portion. It’s the part that you see on the outside of your head. It works somewhat like satellite dishes, collecting sound and transmitting it in to where it is translated into an appropriate medium.
- The meatus, or ear canal, extends from the outer portion (pinnae) inward. It is about 2 cm long and it aids in the amplification of sound as it is entering the middle ear. This makes it easier to interpret. The meatus also contains ear wax-producing cells that help in keeping debris away from your middle ear.
The Middle Ear
Your middle ear consists of bone and tissue. There is no skin in the middle ear. This is the part of the ear that translates sound into a type of mechanical energy that is able to pass through your body. The middle ear takes external sound waves from your outer ear and translates them into pressure waves.
Ear infections usually affect your middle ear, and some may affect your inner ear, as well.
Middle Ear Parts & Functions
- The eardrum, technically called the tympanic membrane, stretches between your outer and your middle ear. It’s just a thin portion of tissue. The name “eardrum” applies to this part of the middle ear because it vibrates when hit with sound waves. It takes the waves of sound and translates it into mechanical energy, capable of travelling through the rest of your ear.
- The hammer or malleus is made of bone, and one of the smallest areas of bone found in the human body. It connects to your eardrum and vibrates as sound waves hit the eardrum. In this way it passes that sound into the remainder of the ear.
- The anvil, or incus, is a bone that sits atop the hammer. It collects vibrations from your eardrum and sends them along to the closest piece, the stirrup.
- The stirrup or stapes sits just below your anvil. It’s the last bone in your inner ear that collects sound and passes it along. The stirrup contracts when it picks up sound waves, which compresses those sound waves to be passed into the inner ear.
The Inner Ear
Also called the labyrinth, your inner ear translates the messages it receives and sends them on to your brain, for interpretation. It is fluid-filled, which aids in balancing the organs of the ear. It also comprises your hearing, so that sounds will be passable to your nerves.
Inner Ear Parts & Functions
- The cochlea is spiral-shaped and covered with a stiff membrane. That membrane itself is made up of nerve cells, also called ear hairs. The hairs each pick up different types of vibration, hitting in differing frequencies. As your nerves begin vibrating, these frequencies are translated to electrical pulses that are sent to your brain.
- If you expose your ear to noise that is too loud or high in pitch, the nerves can be broken, and they do not regrow. This is among the most common causes of hearing loss.
- The auditory nerves receive electrical impulses that your ear has generated. They are passed on to the brain for interpretation.
- Your semicircular canals attach to your cochlea, but do not often interact with them. Rather, they are filled with fluid, and they sway and turn when you move. This helps you to retain your sense of balance.
Some Ear Conditions
Problems in the ears range from common things like earaches to issues like Meniere’s disease, which may cause vertigo, pain, tinnitus and hearing loss.
Inflammation in the middle ear is usually brought on by infection, and swimmer’s ear by infection or inflammation of the area behind the ear drum.
Tinnitus causes ringing in one ear or both ears, and is generally caused by aging or damage from prolonged exposure to noise.
Ruptured eardrums are brought about by sudden air pressure changes, loud noise, foreign objects or infection. They heal within several weeks.
Some ear problems can be corrected and others cannot. Protect your hearing, so that you’ll always be able to listen to music, speech and loved ones.