The ear is made up of three different sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. These parts all work together so you can hear and process sounds.
The Outer Ear
The outer ear consists of the ear canal and the eardrum. When something makes a noise, it sends vibrations or sound waves through the air. The sound travels down a narrow passageway called the ear canal, striking the ear drum and causing it to move or vibrate.
The Middle Ear
When the eardrum vibrates it sends the vibrations to the ossicles (ah’-sih-kulz), which consists of three bones in the middle ear. These are the three tiniest, most delicate bones in your body. They include:
- the malleus (mah’-lee-us), which is attached to the eardrum and means “hammer” in Latin
- the incus (in’-kus), which is attached to the malleus and means “anvil” in Latin
- the stapes (stay’-peez), the smallest bone in the body, which is attached to the incus and means “stirrup” in Latin.
When the eardrum vibrates, it moves the tiny ossicles, which helps sound along on its journey to the inner ear.
Sound comes into the inner ear as vibrations and enters the cochlea (ko’-klee-uh), which is a small, spiral shaped tube, about the size of a pea. The cochlea is filled with liquid, which is set into motion, like a wave, when the ossicles vibrate.
The cochlea carries the vibration to thousands of tiny hair cells that sit on a membrane that stretches its length. The hair cells fire off electrical impulses through the auditory nerve, where the brain interprets the impulses as sound.
All of this happens in a fraction of a second!