Parts of the Ear and their Functions
The ear consists of three sections: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Each plays an important role in hearing.
OUTER EAR FUNCTION
The outer ear is called the auricle or pinna. It is the external portion visible to others and is responsible for collecting sound waves and funneling them into the ear canal. There, they are amplified and sent to the eardrum, causing it to vibrate.
MIDDLE EAR FUNCTION
The middle ear consists of the auditory canal and tympanic membrane. When the eardrum vibrates, it stimulates movement of the ossicles, a trio of tiny bones.
INNER EAR FUNCTION
The inner ear contains the cochlea, a fluid-filled structure where vibrations transmitted from the eardrum cause hair cells to move. This movement is converted to electrical impulses that traverse up the auditory nerve to the brain. There, the brain interprets the electrical impulses as sound and the hearing process is complete.
When Should You Seek treatment?
A benign tumor of the cranial nerve that connects the inner ear and the brain is known as an acoustic neuroma. While they are noncancerous, they can affect both hearing and balance, and may cause hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness.
While a cholesteatoma starts as a small cyst in the middle ear, this abnormal skin growth can increase in size and destroy the small bones of the middle ear. This can lead to hearing loss, facial paralysis and even a brain abscess.
Ear infections occur in the middle ear when fluid becomes trapped following a viral or bacterial infection. The signs of an ear infection are pain and pressure in the ear, fluid drainage, a low-grade fever and hearing loss.
A balance disorder is caused by anything that affects the inner ear or the brain such as medications, ear infections or head injuries. Symptoms includes: vertigo, feeling as if you are going to fall, lightheadedness, faintness, a floating sensation, blurred vision, confusion or disorientation.
Tinnitus is described as a ringing, hissing or buzzing in the ears. This perception of sound may affect one or both ears, and can range from a minor nuisance to a constant distraction.