The ear is made up of three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The part you see—the lobe and the ear canal—makes up the outer ear. The canal leads to the eardrum and the middle ear in which lie the three tiny bones of hearing, called the hammer, anvil and stirrup because of their resemblance to those objects.
The middle ear is connected to the upper rear part of the throat by the Eustachian tube, and to the mastoid cells inside the temporal bone in the skull just behind the outer ear. The inner ear contains the semicircular canals or labyrinth which are essential to our sense of balance, and the cochlea, in which nerves analyze the sounds transmitted through the outer and middle ears and carry them to the brain.
How Sound Reaches the Brain
The ear is in three parts: the outer, middle and inner ears. The outer ear gathers sound waves; the middle ear passes them on as vibrations; and the inner ear converts them into nerve impulses which the brain interprets and ‘hears’ as series of sounds.
How the Ear Balances the Body
The inner ear contains five fluid-filled chambers concerned with the sense of balance: the three semicircular canals, the utriculus, and the sacculus. The canals are set at right-angles to one another so that each one detects movements in a particular direction. The base of each canal widens to form the ampulla, in which a detector called the cupula is found. When the head and body move, the fluid in the canal shifts, bending the hair-like receptors of the cupula.
Position of the head is registered by movements of tiny particles, called otoliths, on hair-like sense cells. Movement of the body is detected when fluid in the semicircular canals bends hairs of receptors in the ampulla.
The common problems that affect the ear and how to take care of them are as follows:
Infection of the Ear
Middle-ear infections do not usually come from outside, but from the nose and throat via the Eustachian tube. That is why inflamed tonsils and adenoids, a severe cold, sore throat, or sinusitis are usually accompanied by a sense of pressure or pain in the ears.
If the middle ear becomes seriously infected, hearing may be threatened. Children are especially susceptible to middle-ear infections. Since the development of antibiotics, however, middle-ear infections can usually be controlled and mastoiditis prevented.
Infections of the outer ear involving the lining of the auditory canal are common. They may be caused by fungi or by germs, resulting in boils on the canal. Eczema frequently affects this area. If these exterior infections are ignored, they may travel inward and involve the eardrum and the middle ear.
Infections that injure the hearing can also be caused by foreign objects, such as beads or pencil erasers, which very young children sometimes push into the ear canal. Adults can cause similar trouble by cleaning their ears with hairpins, matchsticks, or other long, pointed objects.
Follow this rule for cleaning the ear canal: what you cannot remove with your little finger (which has been thoroughly cleaned with soap and water) should be attended to by a doctor or a nurse at an ear clinic.
Anyone with an infection in the nose, sinuses, or throat should not go swimming, lest the infection spread to the ear. If you have a perforated eardrum, get your doctor’s permission before swimming.
Pain in the ear is usually caused by an infection. A boil in the ear canal is extremely painful, because the skin is fixed to the bone and cannot stretch easily. Wax in the canal can also cause earache. Aspirin will stop minor pain, and putting a heating pad or warm cloth over the ear may relieve some of the discomfort. Consult a doctor if the ache is very painful or if the pain persists.
If the lining of the ear canal is inflamed—a condition known as otitis external—there may be a minor earache, which becomes worse if the jaw is moved, and there may be a slight discharge from the ear. A doctor will clean out the ear passage and instruct the patient to keep his ears free from dirt by wiping them gently with the corner of a dry towel.
The most common cause of severe earache, particularly in children, is Middle-Ear Infection (otitis media). Germs readily spread from the throat up the Eustachian tube to the middle ear, and ear infection is common after tonsillitis, measles, influenza, and a head cold.
In addition to pain, there may be deafness, ringing in the ears, and—if the Eardrum perforates—a bloodstained discharge from the ear. All such infections are serious, and a doctor should be consulted if any of these symptoms occur. He will probably prescribe antibiotics to combat the infection, and other drugs to relieve the pain. Most cases of ear infection recover completely.
If infection spreads from the middle ear to the bone behind the ear, acute Mastoiditis may develop, although this disorder has become rare since the introduction of antibiotics.
Not all earache, however, is caused by a direct disorder of the ear. Tonsillitis, swollen neck glands, neuralgia, and even a bad tooth may cause earache. The condition should be treated by a doctor or, in the case of a diseased tooth, by a dentist.
Infections are not the only cause of deafness. The changes of old age may gradually bring on deafness, which in many cases can be somewhat relieved by a doctor. Old people who can hear some sounds perfectly well but others not at all are suffering from a selective deafness in certain frequencies.
A few type of deafness cannot be helped much by hearing aids, but many more can. Electronics semiconductors have permitted the creation of extremely effective, small hearing instruments. But make sure that a doctor, not a salesman, helps you choose the right kind of hearing aid.
See if you can try the hearing aid at home for a while before committing yourself to a purchase; only you can tell how helpful the instrument is for hearing all kinds of sounds.
The general noise level of our world has risen so much in modern times as to be considered a disease factor in itself. Most adults who have been in the army, live in cities, or have subjected themselves to the intense decibels of rock music, suffer some hearing impairment, whether they know it or not.
Protect yourself from loud noises by covering your ears or turning down the volume on the radio or music player. If noise is unavoidable, such as on the job, wear earmuffs.
The most important thing you can do to prevent deafness is to have the hearing of all members of the family tested regularly. See a doctor the minute you or your child feels any ear pain, has a discharge from the ear, complains of any unusual buzzing, ringing, or pressure in the ears, or experiences any loss of hearing.
Three-Dimensional Analysis of the Ear Morphology by Ali Modabber, Helmut Galster et al
Antibiotic Therapy as Personalized Medicine - General Considerations and Complicating Factors by Claus Moser, Oana Ciofu et al
Factors Affecting Hearing Aid Adoption and Use: A Qualitative Study by Nicola Gallagher and Jayne Woodside
Deafness: Diagnosis and Management by JP Tonkin
Optical Identification of Middle Ear Infection by Alisha Prasad, Syed Abid Hasan and Manas Gartia
The Development of the Mammalian Outer and Middle ear by Neal Anthwal and Hannah Thompson
Earache by Keith Conover