The ear is actually a system of three interrelated parts that function together for the perception of sound and the maintenance of balance.The Outer Ear
The outer ear is what most people consider “the ear”. It consists of the flexible, fleshy part (the pinna) as well as the ear canal. The eardrum separates the outer ear from the middle ear space.
The middle ear is a space in the skull, which lies behind the eardrum and is in close proximity to many important structures. The bottom of the space is closely related to the carotid artery and jugular vein. At the front of the space is the opening of the eustachian tube (the conduit which connects the middle ear space to the back of the nose).
The innermost wall has two openings to the inner ear, one for the stapes (the oval window) and one called the round window, both function in the transduction of mechanical sound to nerve impulses in the inner ear. In addition, a very important nerve, which controls the movement of the face and is involved in taste, runs along this bony wall in its own canal as it travels to exit the skull.
The back most wall of the middle ear has an opening to a system of air cells located within the bone behind the ear (mastoid bone), called the mastoid air cells. Finally, three small bones span this space and conduct sound energy from the ear drum to the inner ear. These bones are called the malleus, the incus, and the stapes (a.k.a. the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup). As you can see, the middle ear is a busy and very important area. This is also a common site of disease and hearing loss.
The inner ear is actually a series of fluid filled spaces housed within the bone of the skull. These spaces include the cochlea, which is involved in hearing, and the semicircular canals, which are involved in balance. Within these spaces, bathed in fluid, are delicate neurosensory tissues and fine nerve endings, which will ultimately conduct both balance and hearing information to the brain.
The balance system of the inner ear is very similar to that described above expect this system is activated by head motion (instead of sound vibrations transmitted through the ossicular chain).
There are many factors that can lead to hearing loss, and sometimes multiple factors contribute at once. Some common causes are listed below.
The Outer Ear
The Middle Ear
The Inner Ear
Tinnitus is very common and can be annoying and distracting. Almost 37 million Americans have tinnitus in their ear or ears. It may come and go or might be a constant bother. It might be soft or loud, low pitched (roaring), or high-pitched (ringing) kind of sound. More than 7 million people are so badly affected that they can’t lead normal lives.
There are various causes including a plug of wax, allergy, ear infection, circulatory problems, certain medications, and prolonged exposure to loud noise.Learn More
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