The ear is a very important part of our auditory system. It receives the sounds from around it and transfers those sounds to the brain for processing. Without our ears we would not be able to hear language, music, danger and many other important sounds. Our ears also help us to maintain our balance and when damaged can cause our balance to be upset. The ear has three main parts, the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Each has an important role to play in how we hear.
How Does The Ear Work?
The outer ear:
The outer ear is the part of the ear that can be seen. It is also know as the pinna. The outer ear is responsible for collecting the sound waves from the air around it. It channels these sound waves into and through the ear canal towards the ear drum. When these sound waves come in contact with the ear drum it vibrates just as a drum does when hit. The outer ear also helps us determine where sounds are coming from.
The Middle ear:
The middle ear is made up of three tiny bones called the malleus (the hammer), the incus (the anvil) and the stapes (the stirrup). The vibrations that have been caused by the sound waves hitting the ear drum continue through these tiny bones. These bones intensify the vibrations and deliver them into the inner ear or the cochlea.
The Inner ear:
The inner ear is where the sound waves become converted into electrical signals that are processed by your brain allowing you to hear sounds. The cochlea looks a lot like the shell of a snail and contains thousands of tiny hair like cells which are connected to the acoustic nerve. The vibrations from the middle ear make the tiny hair like cells move. These cells change the vibrations into an electro-chemical signal which passes through the acoustic nerve to the brain. The brain then recognizes these signals as a certain sound and that is how we are able to hear. Above the cochlea there are three small loops that are full of fluid and microscopic hairs. It is here that your balance is regulated. When you move your head the fluid in the loops moves along the tiny hairs which send signals to your brain. Your brain uses these signals to determine what position your head is in and then sends signals to the right muscles to help you keep your balance.