How The Ear Works

The ear is a complex organ responsible for our hearing. In order to protect and take care of it is important to know how it works and its main parts: namely outer, middle and inner ear.

The visible part of the ear called the pinna or auricle is responsible for collecting sound vibrations and filtering them before they enter the ear canal. From there, they are directed to the tympanic membrane or eardrum, which is very thin and approximately 1 cm in diameter. The function of the eardrum is to pass the sound waves through vibrations to the middle ear. 

The middle ear consists of three small bones or ossicles called malleus (hammer), incus (anvil) and stapes (stirrup), and it also connects the throat to the ear via the Eustachian tube. The ossicles are moved by the vibrations sent from the tympanic membrane and amplify them. Their function is to transform the sound waves into a signal that can be recognised by the inner ear so it can send it to the brain for processing.

The cochlea, which is the main part of the inner ear receives the signals from the middle ear, turns them into neurological impulses and sends them to the auditory nerve. The cochlea is an intricate organ made of coiled up tubes that are filled with liquid and tiny hair cells (inner and outer, different in length) that vibrate and transmit the electrical signals to the hearing nerve, which sends them to brain to interpret them as the actual sounds we hear.

The inner hear cells are just about 3500 in number, and the outer about 12000-21500. They are the reason we hear and once damaged, cannot be restored. That is why it is very important to take good care of our hearing and protect it from dangerous sounds and noisy environments. Although, many hard or hearing suffer from age related hearing loss, mainly due to their lifestyle early on and the detrimental effects of free radicals on our body cells, there is an increasing number of people who begin developing hearing problems mainly because of lack of a proper protection.

Working in a noisy workplace, around machinery or motor vehicles can have a lasting and irreversible effect on the delicate inner ear hair cells. Continuous and frequent exposure to prolonged or abrupt very loud noises can also lead to mild to profound hearing loss. The hidden danger of noise induced hearing loss, which many people underestimate, is that it does not manifest immediately but gradually over time. Once incurred though, normal hearing, unfortunately, cannot be regained and needs to be managed with hearing aids or assistive hearing devices for the person to maintain an independent lifestyle.

Protection

Part of protecting your general health should be targeted at taking care of your ears and hearing. You should undergo regular hearing checks, treat infections on time, take adequate measures in noisy environments and wear hearing protection. Should you recognise that you have symptoms connected to compromised hearing, it is recommended to seek help from a specialist to determine the cause and severity and propose a suitable solution.

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