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Ear & Sense of hearing

Ears are responsible for both hearing and maintaining the balance of the body. The ears are composed of

I. Outer ear II. Middle ear & III.Inner ear

Directs sound waves to tympanic membrane

Picks up and amplifies sound waves


Sacs & Semicircular canals

Maintains equillibrium




Pinna, Auditory canal

Tympanic membrane

Organ of Corti, auditory nerve Fluid

Sacculus, utriculus, semicircular canals Fluid



Air (auditory tube)

Outer ear

This structure is peculiar to terrestrial organisms. Outer ear is involved in collection, amplification and transmission of the sounds. It is composed of a pinna, an external auditory canal and an ear drum.

Pinna is a cartilage tissue that has a distinct shape. It collects the sound waves and determines their source and amplifies them.

The outer ear parts are only given for general knowledge, not to be memorized

External auditory canal is a canal located between the pinna and the eardrum. In its structure bone and cartilage tissue are present. Some glands in its structure produce wax-like substances. The hairs and the wax-like substance prevent the entry of dust and solid particles into the middle ear. Amplified sounds are directed to the eardrum.

Eardrum separates the outer ear from the middle ear. It is 1cm. in diameter and semi-transparent, and composed of collagen fibers. For hearing, the eardrum must vibrate. Eardrum is connected to an ossicle (=small bone) of middle ear named as malleus (=hammer).

Normal Eardrum

Ruptured Eardrum

Middle ear

Middle ear is mainly composed of ossicles {(malleus (=hammer), inchus (=anvil), and stapes (=stirrup)} and an Eustachian tube, and it is filled with air.
Anvil Stirrup Hammer

Ossicles are attached to each other by movable joints. Malleus is attached to incus and incus is attached to stapes and stapes is attached to the oval Window of the inner ear. These bones functions in increasing the vibrations from the eardrum 15-20 times



Eustachian tube is a connection between the middle ear and the pharynx. Eustachian tube is closed with a valve on the pharynx side to prevent any passage in it. When the external pressure changes (ex: pressure change while we climb a hill) any opening of the valve permits the air passage into the middle ear, thus, this balances external and internal pressures. Balance of the pressures is important in protecting the eardrum from rapturing.

Inner wall of the Middle ear

Inner ear

Auditory nerve
(for hearing)

Vestibulocochlear nerve
(for balance)



(Utriculus & Sacculus)

The inner ear is involved hearing and maintaining the balance of the body. The organs of hearing and balance are well protected by the bony structures. Bony structures make a labyrinth (=osseus labyrinthis) according to the shapes of the organs. These organs have also a labyrinthal structure. (=membranous labyrinthis) The organ for hearing is cochlea and the organs for balance are semicircular channels and vestibulum. Vestibulum is made up of two sac. These sacs are utriculus and sacculus. The organs are made up of membranes filled with a fluid named as endolymph. There is another fluid that fills the channels in cochlea.this fluid is perilymph. Osseus labyrinthis

Oval window
Stirrup Round window

Cochlea is an organ that has a snail shape. Cochlea consists of 3 fluid filled canals separated by membranes. These canals are vestibular canal, cochlear canal and tympanic canal (=in vestibular canal and in tympanic canal perilymph, in cochlear canal endolymph is present).

Human fetal cochlea The bony capsule has been dissected out, showing the 2 1/2 coils of the membranous labyrinth (35 mm in length). The oval window (blue arrow) and round window (yellow arrow) are indicated.

Vestibular canal
(fluid: Perilymph)

Cochlear canal
(Fluid: Endolymph)

Organ of Corti

Tympanic canal
(fluid: Perilymph)

Vestibular canal is in contact with the oval window where tympanic canal is in contact with round window. Oval window and round window are membranes located between inner and middle ear. Oval window is attached to stapes where round window is free. Cochlear canal is in contact with sacculus. One tip of each 3 canal is open and in contact with each other. Organ of Corti is the main organ in cochlea for hearing. The organ is located on the membrane separating the cochlear canal and the tympanic canal. There are approximately 20-40 thousands of hairs, with different lengths, attached to the organ of Corti. Any vibration in the endolymph of cochlear canal is sensed by the organ of Corti.

Open end of canals


A surface view of organ of corti: This part is present under the tectorial membrane, 4 rows of hairs can be differentiated.

A surface view of organ of Corti, from left to right: The bony wall; 4 rows of hair cells; tectorial membrane;

1 hairy cell of organ of Corti

These axons form the auditory nerve

1) Vibrations from the stirrup are transmitted to the oval window. 2) The oval window transmits the vibrations to the perilymph in the vestibular canal. The vibration travels the length of the vestibular canal, around the far end of the cochlea, and back through the tympanic canal to the round window membrane. 3) As the oval window membrane moves in, the round window membrane moves out, keeping the pressure equalized. 4) As the vibrations travel through the vestibular canal and tympanic canal, they set up vibrations in the endolymph of the cochlear canal. These vibrations vibrate the hairs in the organ of Corti. 5) Vibrations are converted into chemoelectrical impulses in the sensory neurons of the organ of Corti and are transmitted to the brain for processing. 6) The nerve that carries the impulses from the ear to the brain is named as auditory nerve. (=acoustic nerve).

Mechanism of Hearing in the inner ear

How the body position is determined?

Statocyst is the organ for the determination of body position in mollusks. Statocyst is an empty sac-like structure that contains epithelial cells on the inner lining. The lowest portion of the statocyst is covered by ciliated sensory cells. On the cilia a statolith is present. Statolith is a stone-like structure made up of CaCO3 (=calcium carbonate, limestone). Statolith exerts pressure on the cilia. When the body position changes, statolith exerts pressure on different cells. By the change of pressure location the animal understands the change in his position and reacts to return to its previous position.

Structure of a statocyst
Epithelial cells Hairs

Nerve axons


All along you have rocks in your head!!!

In human, to discover the position and the movement of the head two structures are present in our inner ears

Movement of the Head

Linear movement

Rotational movement

Otolith organs (=vestibular organ) or (sacculus and utriculus)

Semicircular canals



In utriculus and sacculus, nerve cells form some patches. These patches are named as maculae (2mm in diameter). In the maculae, CaCO3 (=Calcium carbonate) crystals are present. In utriculus and sacculus endolymph is present. These crystals are known as ear stones or otoliths. Sometimes the otoliths are embedded in jelly. Any change in the body position is sensed by the maculae and reported to brain.

How does a macula work?

When the head is in normal position otoliths press downwards. When the head tilts, speeds up, or slows down, the otoliths pull against the hair cells which send impulses to the brain.

Each semicircular canal is in a plane perpendicular to the other two. Their function is to monitor the position of the head and maintain equilibrium. In the semicircular canals endolymph is present. In the ampulla of each semicircular canal, some patches named as crista statica are present. Each crista statica contains ciliated sensory cells. The cilia are located in a gelatin filled sac named as capula or capula terminalis. When the head moves, the endolymph in the canals moves and so the capula terminalis. The movement of capula termonalis generates impulses in ciliated sensory cells. Later, the impulses are transmitted to brain.

How do semicircular canals work?

When the head moves one way endolymph is left behind and apparently flows the other way, bending the cupula. This stimulates the hair cells which send impulses to the brain.

An ampulla and utriculus cut open to show the position of the capula and macula