How does our auditory system work? The ear is one of the most complex and precise organs in the human body. Below, we explain the parts that make up the ear and the function of each one:
The ear: a sensitive, advanced organ
The primary function of the ear is to maintain our senses of balance and hearing.
Also known as the vestibulocochlear organ, it acts as a receptor and filter in which auditory stimuli are transformed into information that is subsequently decoded by the brain. Therefore, the main functions carried out by the ear are detecting, transmitting and converting sounds into electric impulses.
Structure and anatomy of the ear
The auditory system consists of three major parts:
- The external ear: formed by the pinna and the external auditory canal, which receives sounds and transmits them to the middle ear via the eardrum. The eardrum is circular and flexible, and begins to vibrate as the incoming sound waves strike it.
- The middle ear: includes the ossicles, three minuscule bones called the malleus, incus and stapes (the latter being the smallest bone in the human body). These bones form a bridge between the eardrum and the inner ear through the oval window that covers the cochlea. A narrow tube of approximately 3.5 cm in length, called the Eustachian tube, connects the ear to the outer part of the nose and acts as an equalizing valve. This ensures that the pressure on either side of the eardrum is balanced and that sound can be heard correctly.
- The inner ear: includes the cochlea, a structure that has a spiral shape similar to a snail shell, and is located in the bony labyrinth, which has several membranous sections filled with fluids called endolymph and When these liquids move, they create fluctuations in the cochlea’s hair-like structures called stereocilia. Finally, the Organ of Corti transforms the mechanical energy of the sound waves into nerve energy by creating electric impulses that are sent to the brain through the auditory or vestibulocochlear nerve.
Failure to receive these electric impulses in the brain is a sign that the ear is defective or damaged, and is a warning that there is something amiss in our auditory system.
Auditory training can help some people who suffer deafness or hearing loss to recover the ability to receive and process sound and understand spoken language more fluidly. For example, hearing centres such as Audifón offer clients simple instructions for completing a series of hearing rehabilitation exercises at home to help the ears recognize certain frequencies and improve hearing levels.
How sound waves travel from the ear to the brain
In order to get a better understanding of how the auditory system works, take a look at this video, which shows a 3D animation of the path that sound waves follow through this complex organ:
If you have any doubts or queries on how our ears work, leave us a comment below or contact us through our website or social media pages.
Keep an eye out for our next post, which is coming soon and is full of interesting facts about ears! 🙂