Today we’re kicking off a new series here on the Tympanic Times called Ears 101 where we will address the basics about ear health and answer questions many parents have about their child’s ears.
To get the ball rolling, let’s start with the basic anatomy of the ear.
As seen above, your ear is segmented into three different parts the outer, middle and inner Ear.
The flexible outer part of the ear is called the pinna and similar to your fingerprints, it is entirely unique in shape. As you move inward you first encounter the ear canal, a small tube that provides passage through the skull bones and ends at the eardrum, or tympanic membrane. The eardrum is a thin, semi-transparent membrane that vibrates when sound waves from your surroundings reach it. Below is a picture of a healthy eardrum taken by the CellScope Oto.
On the other side of the eardrum is the middle ear, where three tiny hearing bones, the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), stapes (stirrup) form a sort of moving bridge that transmit and amplify the vibrations from the eardrum to the snail-shaped cochlea. The middle ear is lined with a mucous producing membrane, similar to the inside of your nose, that covers all of the bones.
Also in the middle ear is the very important eustachian tube, which drains built up fluid in the middle, allows you to relieve ear pressure by “popping” your ears, and protects the middle ear from bacteria. The eustachian tube is critical to the healthy functioning of the ear and when it doesn’t work properly it can lead to ear infections.
The organs in the inner ear are responsible for sound detection and balance. The cochlea is the fascinating structure that transforms the vibrations into nerve signals that the brain can interpret as sound. The vestibular system, which includes the semicircular canals and otoliths, is responsible for our ability to detect spatial movement and help us stay balanced.
Now that we’ve covered the basic ear anatomy, in our next post we’ll talk about ear infections and answer the questions, “What is an ear infection?” and “What causes ear infections?”
Have an ear question you’d like answered? Submit your questions in the comments.
Disclaimer: This information is meant for educational purposes only; none of the above information should be viewed as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.