Ear – Structure, Functions & Diseases

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Ear – Structure, Functions & Diseases


The ear isn’t just the hearing organ. It is a complex system of parts that not only lets humans to hear, but also makes it conceivable for humans to walk.

The anatomy of our hearing or auditory system is extremely complex but can be broadly allocated to two parts, one being called ‘peripheral’ and the other ‘central’.

The peripheral hearing system consists of three parts which are the outer, the middle and the inner:

The outer ear comprises of the pinna (also called the auricle), ear canal and eardrum.

The middle part is a trivial, air-filled space containing three minute bones called the malleus, incus and stapes but collectively called the ossicles. The malleus joins to the eardrum linking it to the outer ear and the stapes (smallest bone in the body) joins to the inner ear.

Read Also: Human Eye – Structure and Function

The inner part has both hearing and balance organs. The hearing part of the inner ear and is called the cochlea which comes from the Greek word for ‘snail’ because of its idiosyncratic coiled shape. The cochlea, which contains many thousands of sensory cells (called ‘hair cells’), is linked to the central hearing system by the hearing or auditory nerve. The cochlea is filled with special fluids which are significant to the process of hearing.

The central hearing system comprises of the auditory nerve and an incredibly complex path through the brain stem and onward to the auditory cortex of the brain.

Ear Conditions

Earache: Pain in the hearing organ can have numerous causes. Some of these are severe, some are not serious.

Otitis media (middle ear inflammation): Inflammation or contagion of the middle ear (behind the eardrum). Usually, this is caused by an infection.

Swimmer’s ear (Otitis externa): Inflammation or contagion of the outer part of the hearing organ (pinna and canal). Unexpected cases are usually infections; chronic otitis is often a skin condition (dermatitis).

Meniere’s disease: A disorder in which the inner part of the hearing organ on one side malfunctions. Vertigo, tinnitus, hearing loss, and pain are common symptoms.

Tinnitus: Ringing in one or both ears. Usually this is due to injury from noise exposure, or from aging.

Cerumen (ear wax) impaction: wax may block the ear canal and adhere to the eardrum. The eardrum’s reduced vibrations damage hearing.

Ruptured eardrum: Very loud noises, sudden changes in air pressure, infection, or foreign objects can tear the eardrum. The small hole typically heals within a few weeks.

Acoustic neuroma: A noncancerous tumor that develops on the nerve traveling from the hearing organ to the brain. Hearing loss, vertigo, and tinnitus can be symptoms.

Mastoiditis: Infection of the mastoid bone, just behind the ear. Mastoiditis can result from untreated middle of part of the hearing organ infections.

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