The ear consists of three main parts:
- Outer Ear
- Middle Ear
- Inner Ear
The Outer Ear
The visible portion of the outer ear is called the pinna. It collects sound waves and channels them into the ear canal where the sound is amplified. The sound waves then travel toward a flexible, oval membrane at the end of the ear canal called the eardrum. The eardrum then begins to vibrate.
The Middle Ear
The vibrations from the eardrum set the ossicles into motion. The ossicles are three tiny bones, and in fact are the smallest in the human body. They’re named the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup), which all work to further amplify the sound.
The stapes attaches to the oval window that connects the middle ear to the inner ear. The eustachian tube, which opens into the middle ear, is responsible for equalizing the pressure between the air outside the ear to that within the middle ear.
The Inner Ear
The sound waves enter the inner ear and then into a snail shaped organ called the cochlea. The cochlea is filled with a fluid that moves in response to the vibrations from the oval window. As the fluid moves, thousands of nerve endings are then set into motion. These nerve endings transform the vibrations into electrical impulses that then travel along the auditory nerve to the brain.
The brain then interprets these signals and this is how we hear. The inner ear also contains the vestibular organ that is responsible for balance.