How The Ear Works

If any section of our ears isn’t working quite right, it can have a huge impact on our lives.

Normal Hearing Function

The Sound Journey Through Your Ear

The Outer Ear

The part of the outer ear that we see is called the pinna; with its grooves and ridges, the pinna provides a natural volume boost for sounds in the 2000 to 3000 Hz frequency range, where we perceive many consonant sounds of speech.
The ear canal is the other important outer ear landmark. Earwax (cerumen) accumulates in the ear canal and serves as a protective barrier to the skin from bacteria and moisture. Earwax is normal unless it completely blocks the ear canal.

The Middle Ear

The eardrum, or tympanic membrane (TM), is the dividing structure between the outer and middle ear. Although it is an extremely thin membrane, the eardrum is made up of three layers to increase its strength.
The Eustachian tube is the middle ear’s air pressure equalizing system. The middle ear is encased in bone and does not associate with outside air except through the Eustachian tube. This tubular structure can be involuntarily opened by swallowing, yawning, or chewing. It can also be intentionally opened to equalize pressure in the ears, such as when flying in an airplane. When this happens, you might hear a soft popping sound.

The Inner Ear

The inner ear is an organ located deep within the temporal bone, which is the bone of the skull on both sides of the head above the outer ear. The inner ear has two main structures: the semicircular canals and the cochlea.
The semicircular canals do not contribute to hearing but assist in maintaining balance as we move. The cochlea is the hearing organ of the inner ear, which is a fluid-filled structure that looks like a snail’s shell. The cochlea is arranged by frequency, much like a piano, and encodes sounds from 20Hz (low pitch) to 20,000Hz (high pitch) in humans.

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