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Explaining the Human Ear: From Sound Waves to Inner Ears

Home » Explaining the Human Ear: From Sound Waves to Inner Ears

Have you ever wondered how human ears work? They are fascinating structures, and learning more about them can help us understand our own bodies better. In this post, we will explore sound waves, the external ear, middle ear, and inner ear. We will also cover some of the misconceptions people have about the human body in terms of hearing. Sound waves cause vibrations that travel through the air to reach your outer ears. These vibrations then enter into your skull through an opening called the external auditory meatus (or canal). Once inside your head, they create a fluid wave that travels down to another opening called the eardrum or tympanic membrane. This is where things start getting really interesting!

We have already written about bone conduction. That was a little bit “abnormal”. Let’s see what is “normal”. But first thing first.

What are the sound waves anyway?

Let’s begin with the basics: sound waves are vibrations that travel through the air to reach your outer ears.

Sound is created when something makes a disturbance in an elastic medium like air, water, or even solid ground. In this case, we’re talking about sound waves traveling through the air and reaching your eardrum. The vibration from these soundwaves causes fluctuations in pressure. And how this affects your ears?

The vibrations from these soundwaves cause changes to pressure, which is what allows you to experience all those cool things like hearing music or understanding someone when they’re talking with other people around you.

Ear composition

Our ear consists of three major parts: the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear.

Ear composition
Source: Wikimedia under Common license

The outer ear is what you can see on the outside of your head. It captures sound waves using a membrane called a tympanic membrane that vibrates in response to those pressure fluctuations. This vibration then travels down into our eardrum (middle ear) where this drum starts to vibrate. The eardrum is connected to three tiny bones called ossicles that amplify the sound. These three bones are also connected to the inner ear. And last part of the ear composition is the cochlea, which is a spiral-shaped tube that also amplifies sound waves and we call it also inner ear.

What does the outer ear consists of

The outer ear also called the external ear, is what you can see on the outside of your head. It captures sound waves using a membrane called the tympanic membrane that vibrates in response to the sound waves. The ear canal is the important part of the outer ear and it is connected with the eardrum.

The shape of the outer ear affects mostly how sound waves are captured. The layout of the outer ears and their shape affects our stereo hearing. The sound travel differs, depending on the shape of your outer ear. The width and height are also important because they define how sound waves enter our middle ear. The human body has an asymmetrical aspect to it when you compare left and right ears as well.

The outer ear has two other important functions: it helps to regulate the temperature of the human body and also protects our delicate inner ears from bacteria that can cause infections or even death!

The sound waves then make their way down into our middle ear where they get amplified by three tiny bones.

Middle ear

Tiny bones in the middle ear are called the hammer (malleus), the anvil (incus), and stirrup (stapes). The function of these three bones is to amplify and transmit sound waves from the eardrum at the end of the ear canal into our inner ear.

The sound vibrations come in and hit the eardrum (tympanic membrane) which vibrates back and forth. The vibrations are transmitted to a series of three bones that act as little amplifiers for these vibrations. One bone is attached to the eardrum, one bone sits right next to it and makes contact with the other bone, and then a third little “stirrup” sits on top of them.

How the sound enters your ears and vibrates

Inner ear

As the sound travel through the ear, the sounds enter a fluid-filled cavity called the cochlea (which is our inner ear). Then, sensory hair cells in that tube convert those vibrations into electrical signals which are then sent on for processing by various parts of your brain that process those auditory signals. The cochlea sends these messages to the brain through a large nerve called the acoustic or vestibulocochlear nerve.

When hair cells don’t move easily they become more sensitive to loud noises because fewer hairs will vibrate at any given moment when volume increases.

Audiophile ears

What is so special about audiophile ears? You may ask.

  • They’re trained to hear the finest sound waves.
  • Their ears are sensitive and can pick up every tiny nuance of sound.
  • Most audiophiles have perfect pitch, which means they can identify a note from hearing just one tone.

This means that everything in the chain described earlier works perfectly. In the case your ears are healthy, it is good to train your ears.

To train your ears to be an audiophile, the sound needs to be externalized and amplified. A good technique is just playing an audio recording of someone speaking in a quiet place, such as inside a closed room or with people whispering (low volume). There is a lot of techniques out there to use if you want to be an audiophile. We have covered this topic earlier. You can have inspiration from Harman also.

Hearing loss

The most common reasons for hearing loss are aging and noise. Noise can be harmful to the ears even when it is not loud, but prolonged exposure will cause hearing loss no matter how soft the sound may be.

A more complete list of causes for hearing loss includes:

  • Heavy drinking or drug use
  • Infections like meningitis, influenza (flu), or mononucleosis
  • Age-related hearing problems
  • Tinnitus (rings in your ear) could result from a number of different factors including age, illness with an infection such as Lyme disease, diabetes mellitus type I and II, head injury, high blood pressure
  • Ménière’s Disease – this describes symptoms that include dizziness accompanied by ringing or roaring in the inner ears, or the feeling, like room is spinning around you.

Safety listening to music

To avoid hearing loss, it is good to always make sure the volume is not too high.

When you’re listening to music, it’s best to use headphones instead of earbuds and never rely on speakers alone without protection.

And remember that some sounds are louder than others—it can be hard to tell when a sound like an ambulance siren (120 dB) is coming towards you but less difficult with a mosquito buzzing at your ear (80 dB).

Finally, avoid exposing yourself excessively to loud noise for long periods of time as this will cause continued hearing loss over time. According to WHO, up to 80 dB, you can listen safely for up to 40 hours per week.

Doing these simple things each day will go far in preventing hearing loss from happening! Do not forget – hearing loss are permanent.

Conclusion

As you have already learned, human ears are fascinating and work in very interesting ways to help us hear the world around us. Thank you for taking this journey with me, I hope it has been as enjoyable as it was informative! Listen to the music you love with the best equipment you can afford, and always protect your hearing. Your ears are a perfect example of a human’s ability to adapt and change over time!

I hope you have enjoyed this post on the human ear, sound waves, audiophile ears.

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