What Are the Different Parts of the Ear?

by | Oct 17, 2022 | News

Understanding hearing loss on an anatomical level can be overwhelming. Many different mechanisms in the middle ear, inner ear and outer ear play crucial roles in hearing. For a basic overview of how we hear, it helps to tackle the three sections of the ear individually.

The Three Main Sections: Outer Ear, Middle Ear and Inner Ear

Each section is designed to complete one step of the hearing process. Many small parts inside of each section make hearing possible, similar to levers, chutes and switches inside a machine.

1. Outer Ear

This section is the portion of the ear you can see on the outside. It also includes the first section of the ear canal and ends at the tympanic membrane, or eardrum. The ear’s structure on the outside acts as a funnel, directing sound waves from the air into the ear canal.

2. Middle Ear

The middle ear translates sound waves into stronger vibrations. Many hearing disorders originate here, as the bones and membranes are fragile.

  1. The tympanic membrane, or eardrum, is a dime-sized disc of skin, nerves, and cartilage. It stretches taut across the ear canal like the top of a musical drum. This disc must be flexible enough to respond to vibrations in the air but firm enough to retain its shape. Hearing loss may occur if the eardrum is damaged, torn, or infected.  
  2. The ossicles are three tiny bones: the malleus, incus, and stapes. For easier understanding, they’re also called the hammer, anvil and  The hammer bone is attached to the eardrum and vibrates over the anvil bone. The stirrup bone acts as a gate, controlling what frequencies more easily continue along the path to the inner ear. 
  3. The eustachian tube leads from the middle ear to the nasal passages, providing ventilation and maintaining the correct air pressure in the ear. This is why plugging your nose and exhaling can “pop” your ears when air pressure shifts on a plane. 

3. Inner Ear

After vibrations move from the eardrum and through the ossicles, they reach the inner ear, which can be translated into nerve signals. Specifically, this occurs inside a part called the cochlea: a long, coiled tube that resembles a snail.

Fluid in the cochlea helps the vibrations from the middle ear move small hairs along the inside of the tube. Those hairs are attached to nerves that send the correct signals to the brain based on how the hairs move.

However, these hairs and the nerves attached to them can break down over time, especially if they’re constantly shaken by strong vibrations from loud noise. Wearing hearing protection consistently is a great way to protect your inner ear from long-term damage.

Non-Profit Resources for Middle Ear Damage and Other Hearing Problems

Hearing loss can arise from many causes. The anatomy of the middle ear, inner ear and outer ear is a carefully calibrated system, so tiny amounts of damage can greatly affect a person’s hearing. HEAR Center is a nonprofit organization that has been helping those with hearing loss since 1954. Browse our services for help understanding and managing your or a loved one’s hearing loss.

Call or text: (626) 734-6555

Email us at: appointments@hearcenter.org

Chat us: https://direct.lc.chat/13342371/

Also, for more information about Audiology, please visit our webpage: https://www.hearcenter.org/services/audiology/