Archive | Hearing Basics

What’s that thing you’re sticking in my ear?

Hearing ToolsSometimes when you go to the doctor for a checkup, he or she sticks a pointy flashlight-looking instrument in your ear. Pretty much every time you see an audiologist, you get the same experience. Ever wondered exactly what it is the doc is sticking in your ear, and what it does?

It’s called an otoscope, and it’s used to evaluate for illness and investigate ear-related symptoms. The otoscope contains a small light and a magnifying lens that increases visibility for the doctor using the scope. Before your exam, the doctor or audiologist will attach a disposable tip to the instrument that is called an ear specula. By positioning the ear speculum of the otoscope just inside the ear, the audiologist is able to examine the ear canal.

The otoscope is a useful tool used during the ear exam that helps identify problems with hearing and ear health such as illness, earwax buildup or lodgement of a foreign object.

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How exactly does the ear function?

By definition, hearing is the ability to perceive sound by distinguishing vibrations and changes in the surrounding pressure in the ear. Though most people have a general sense of how the ear works, we want to provide our patients with a simple and easy-to-understand overview of how the ear functions.

To begin, the ear has three main components: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the visible portion of the ear, also known as the pinna, the auditory canal, as well as the eardrum. The eardrum is an airtight fold of skin that separates the outer and middle portions of the ear. Because sound travels in waves, it has an amplitude and pitch. When hit with sound waves, the eardrum vibrates in relation to the waves amplitude and this creates a change in pressure; thus allowing for a differentiation in sound.

The middle ear is comprised of a small air-filled cavity directly behind the eardrum. This chamber contains the three smallest bones in the entire body, which are called the ossicles. These help with transmission and amplification of the sound wave from the eardrum to the inner ear.

The inner ear, though complex, only contains two parts, the cochlea (for hearing) and the vestibular system (for balance). The cochlea is a spiral shaped tube that is filled with fluids and can be divided length wise by the basilar membrane. This membrane vibrates when sound waves from the middle ear pass through the fluid contained by the cochlea. These movements cause tiny hair cells to vibrate, and from there, the information is passed on to the brain stem through the auditory nerve. The vestibular system helps us keep our balance gives us our sense of spatial orientation. This system sends its information to muscle groups that control our eye movements and those that help us stay upright.

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How do we hear?

Hearing is a complex process that allows us to better understand and interact with the world around us. The ear is made up of three different parts: the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Sound travels through all three parts before it reaches the brain.

Outer ear consists of the ear drum and canal. This is the only part of the ear visible to the human eye. Sound travels down the canal. When it reaches the eardrum, it causes it to vibrate.

Middle ear Located right behind the ear drum it is made up of three very small bones called ossicles. When the eardrum vibrates, it in turn causes the ossicles to vibrate, which creates movement of fluid in the inner ear.

Inner ear The movement of fluid in the inner ear (cochlea) causes movement in tiny structures called hair cells. The movement of the hair cells then sends electric signals along the auditory nerve to the brain. Once the electronic signals reach the brain it interprets them as sound.

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Audiology Professionals

Audiology Professionals