The Ear - A guide to Hearing Loss

The ear is a complex and fascinating mechanism which is rather delicate yet is able to withstand a high level of noise and other aural disturbances.

Its enables us to balance and hear sounds which is a result of the delicate structure within. The ear is divided into the following three sections:

  • Outer ear
  • Middle ear
  • Inner ear

Outer ear

The Outer ear is comprised of the auditory canal and the pinna. The auditory canal is where wax collects which helps to protect the ear against foreign bodies and infections.

The pinna is composed of cartilage and is what gives the ear its characteristic ‘shell-like’shape and form. Its role is to pick up external sound waves and pass them into the auditory canal and then the middle ear.

Middle ear

The Middle ear is comprised of the Eustachian tube, the ossicles, the ear drum and the inner ear cavity.

The Eustachian tube joins the ear to the rear of the nose and is responsible for eliminating any discharges.

The ossicles – the ‘hammer’, the ‘anvil’ and the ‘stirrup’ are three bony areas within the ear that act as a connection point for the transmission of sound waves from the ear drum to fluids in the inner ear.

The ear drum detects sound waves via a series of vibrations and transmits these into the inner ear. The inner ear cavity is a pressurisation space which balances both external and internal pressures in the ear. Its other role is that of a repository for secretions to accumulate and be eliminated

Inner ear

This is the most complex part of the ear. It is comprised of the cochlea, the oval window, the round window and fluid-filled canals. These semi-circular canals or chambers are responsible for converting sound waves into impulses which are interpreted by the brain.

The cochlea is an extremely delicate and important of the ear in that it helps with the transmission of sound waves to the brain.

The oval and round windows are membranes which act as a barrier between air in the middle ear and fluid in the inner ear.

The semi-circular canals maintain our ability to balance.

We have talked about the ear in functional terms but it is also forms part of our appearance especially when it comes to fashion.

Ear decorations

Many people use earrings and ear expanders (discs) as a means of complimenting their clothes and make up and as a form of personal expression.

These and ear piercing in general has a long history as a form of body adornment in the vast majority of cultures. In past times it was used as a form of branding for slaves but over time has been adopted by religion, sexuality and fashion. Earrings or ear jewellery in general can help make a bold fashion statement. For example, the popular practice of inserting several ear rings into the ear.

African races use ear expanders as a means of displaying social status. These expanders take the form of a disc and are inserted into a small hole made in the ear lobe. This is very similar to ear piercing carried out in the West but with one difference: a disc is inserted into this hole which stretches it over time. As the lobe stretches, the current disc is replaced with a new disc and this continues until there is a large (and noticeable) hole in the ear lobe.

This may look strange but it is normal practice in other cultures who this as a means of denoting individual status within a community or as a statement of identity.

Ear piercing is discussed in greater detail in our causes of hearing loss section.

Sticking out ears

Large or protruding ears are treated as normal in other cultures but here in the West are open to ridicule. This can take the form of teasing or even bullying which is distressing to the person with noticeable ears especially if they are children.

Children are self-conscious about their appearance and don’t like to stand out from their peers, so will do anything not to draw attention to themselves, and their ears. But this is not an issue that will go away.

In these and other cases surgery is often the only answer. A procedure called otoplasty (or pinnaplasty) is performed in which the ears are pinned back alongside the head. In some cases, cartilage is reshaped in the ear before the ear is pinned.

Your ears are very easy to look after and only require a basic level of care to do so. This is discussed in more detail in our ear healthsection.

Hearing Loss

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