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Sound Transduction in the Ear


Sound Transduction is the process by which the ear senses ambient sounds and translates them into nerve impulses in order to relay the information to the brain. For patients with hearing conditions, doctors, and medical students alike it is important to know the mechanism behind hearing. This knowledge is necessary in order to better understand how various problemssuch as nerve deafnessarise and how they may influence the process at large. The process of sound transduction utilizes several different membranes, muscles, and bones found within the middle and inner ear in order to translate a sound to a chemical message that can be received by the nervous system. The image below depicts the structure of the inner ear.
Figure 1: Basic Anatomy of the Ear. Credit: Uptodate.com

This process description will illustrate the path sound waves take in order to reach the brain, and how the inner ear is capable of distinguishing between the range of frequencies a human hears (50- 18,000 Hz). It is important to note that Sound Transduction is a complex, involved process that demands a sufficient background in anatomy to completely understand. For this reason this description will only cover the most significant details necessary to paint a general picture of the procedure.

This description will be broken into two parts: A brief description of each structure that plays a role in sound transduction. A step by step walkthrough of the entire process.

The Various Players in Sound Transduction


Figure 2: Detailed Anatomy of the Inner Ear. Credit: HowStuffWorks.com

In order to understand the process of sound transduction that takes place in the ear, it is important to first learn about all of the various parts in the middle and inner ear that are integral to the process. The various players in sound transduction that are going to be discussed are: The Auditory Canal The Tympanic Membrane The Ear Ossicles The Oval Window The Cochlea The Auditory Nerve The Round Window

Auditory Canal:
The Auditory Canal is the path made of cartilage and bone between the eardrum and the opening of the ear. Sound waves must travel down this canal to reach the inner ear and be translated into a signal for the brain to receive. Figure 3 displays the Auditory Canal.
Figure 3. The Auditory Canal. Credit: Uptodate.com

Tympanic Membrane:
The Tympanic Membranealso known as the eardrumis the membrane that translates incoming sound waves from the Auditory Canal into vibrations that move the ear ossicles in the middle ear. Figure 4 diplays the Tympanic Membrane.
Figure 4. The Tympanic Membrane. Credit Uptodate.com

Ear Ossicles:
The Ear Ossicles (Shown in Figure 5) include the Malleus, Incus, and Stapesbetter known as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup due to their shapes. These small auditory bones are displaced by vibrations of the tympanic membrane. Consequently, the Ossicles amplify and transfer the vibrations into the inner ear. Muscles at the Malleus and Stapes pull the two bones away from the membranes they are attached to in order to prevent them from rupturing their respective membranes. Figure 5 shows the three ear ossicles.
Figure 5: The Malleus, Incus, and Stapes. Credit: Uptodate.com