Ear - Structure, Functions, Infections, Precautionary Measures
Know your Body

Aiding Your Hearing : Ear

Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi profile Authored by Dr.Surya Rao Poodipeddi on 12 Feb 2014 - 15:00.
It's a silent world outside when you can't hear. Ears are one of the important sensory organs that add meaning to the life around us, complementing everything we see and do, by hearing.
Though we call this hearing organ what we see on either side of the head, as 'ears' in common parlance, it is not the actual ear. This outer portion symmetrical on each side is called the pinna in medical terms. The cartilage covered by skin with a hollow tube is called the external auditory meatus starting from the outer part and stretching up to the eardrum. The ear is made of three parts – the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear.
The Ear Structure: The ear looks like an elongated flap with a hollow outwards and a convex shaped projection inside and a central piece of cartilage called the tragus and a soft mobile part at its lowest end called the uvula of the ear. The inside leads to a canal which ends at the tympanic membrane or the eardrum. The shape of the ear differs from person-to-person. Sometimes, due to congenital deformity the outer year is totally absent and needs reconstruction by a plastic surgeon.
Functioning of the Ear: The outer ears called pinna focus sound waves on the eardrum. The middle ear that is a space between the drum and the inner ear is filled with air and holds three small bones called the malleus, incus and the stapes. These three tiny bones pick up the vibrations caused when sound waves hit the eardrum. The bones then pass the vibrations to the inner ear, which is filled with a fluid and holds two organs called the semicircular canals. One of the organs, the vestibular apparatus gives a sense of balance and the other picks up the sound waves to be transmitted to the brain via the auditory nerve (The 8th cranial nerve) where the sounds are analyzed and appreciated.
If the ear fails in its function, it leads to deafness. There are two varieties of deafness called conductive deafness and the bony deafness. Congenital deafness is an unfortunate problem coming from birth.
Ear Disorders: Some of the common ear disorders are deafness, Problems through injuries, foreign bodies, inflammations, perforation, maniors disease, labrynthitis, mastoiditis, and tinnitus. The common disorders of the ear depend on which part of the ear is involved.
Some degree of hearing loss is seen in most of the elderly people. Constant exposure to loud noise like in mill workers and blasters causes hearing loss called the Noise Induced Hearing Loss. Sometimes accumulation of wax, which becomes hard, could prevent transmission of sound waves to the drum.
Infections: Infections may occur either in the external ear, the middle ear or the inner ear and spread to the mastoid cells in the mastoid sinus causing Mastoiditis. All of them cause severe ear ache. Some may experience voices in the ear called ringing in the ear termed Tinitus. Some may get dizziness due to Labrynthitis.
High Risk Problems: Congenital deafness occurs among one in 10,000. Inflammatory diseases of the ear are most common in children. Diving in the water may cause Ottitis externa. Deafness in elderly may begin at 50 years of age.
Emergencies: Bleeding from ear, discharge with foul smell, sudden deafness and persistent ear ache are the common emergencies encountered.
Precautionary Measures:
  • Consult a doctor, if a child or an adult experiences difficulty in hearing for more than 15 days.
  • Protect your ears while working in noisy surroundings. Never use a hearing aid, unless advised by the ear specialist.
  • Do not try to remove earwax. You may actually help pushing it to the drum.
  • Do not allow children to play with small objects, which can get pushed inside, as a foreign body.
  • Do not try to remove foreign bodies yourself, but consult a doctor.


*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.