The ear is the organ of hearing and, in mammals, balance. In mammals, the ear is usually described as having three parts—the outer ear, middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear consists of the pinna and the ear canal. Since the outer ear is the only visible portion of the ear in most animals, the word "ear" often refers to the external part alone. The ear may be affected by disease, including infection and traumatic damage. Diseases of the ear may lead to hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders such as vertigo, although many of these conditions may also be affected by damage to the brain or neural pathways leading from the ear.
Structure of Ear: The human ear consists of three parts.
Outer ear: The outer ear is the external portion of the ear and includes the fleshy visible pinna (also called the auricle), the ear canal, and the outer layer of the eardrum (also called the tympanic membrane). The pinna consists of the curving outer rim called the helix, the inner curved rim called the antihelix, and opens into the ear canal. The tragus protrudes and partially obscures the ear canal, as does the facing antitragus. The hollow region in front of the ear canal is called the concha. The ear canal stretches for about 1 inch (2.5 cm). The first part of the canal is surrounded by cartilage, while the second part near the eardrum is surrounded by bone. This bony part is known as the auditory bulla and is formed by the tympanic part of the temporal bone. The skin surrounding the ear canal contains ceruminous and sebaceous glands that produce protective ear wax. The ear canal ends at the external surface of the eardrum. Two sets of muscles are associated with the outer ear: the intrinsic and extrinsic muscles. In some mammals, these muscles can adjust the direction of the pinna. In humans, these muscles have little or no effect. The ear muscles are supplied by the facial nerve, which also supplies sensation to the skin of the ear itself, as well as to the external ear cavity. The great auricular nerve, auricular nerve, auriculotemporal nerve, and lesser and greater occipital nerves of the cervical plexus all supply sensation to parts of the outer ear and the surrounding skin.
Middle ear: The middle ear lies between the outer ear and the inner ear. It consists of an air-filled cavity called the tympanic cavity and includes the three ossicles and their attaching ligaments; the auditory tube; and the round and oval windows. The ossicles are three small bones that function together to receive, amplify, and transmit the sound from the eardrum to the inner ear. The ossicles are the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and the stapes (stirrup). The stapes is the smallest named bone in the body. The middle ear also connects to the upper throat at the nasopharynx via the pharyngeal opening of the Eustachian tube. The three ossicles transmit sound from the outer ear to the inner ear. The malleus receives vibrations from sound pressure on the eardrum, where it is connected at its longest part (the manubrium or handle) by a ligament. It transmits vibrations to the incus, which in turn transmits the vibrations to the small stapes bone. The wide base of the stapes rests on the oval window. As the stapes vibrates, vibrations are transmitted through the oval window, causing movement of fluid within the cochlea.
Inner ear: The inner ear sits within the temporal bone in a complex cavity called the bony labyrinth. A central area known as the vestibule contains two small fluid-filled recesses, the utricle and saccule. These connect to the semicircular canals and the cochlea. There are three semicircular canals angled at right angles to each other which are responsible for dynamic balance. The cochlea is a spiral shell-shaped organ responsible for the sense of hearing. These structures together create the membranous labyrinth. The inner ear structurally begins at the oval window, which receives vibrations from the incus of the middle ear. Vibrations are transmitted into the inner ear into a fluid called endolymph, which fills the membranous labyrinth. The endolymph is situated in two vestibules, the utricle and saccule, and eventually transmits to the cochlea, a spiral-shaped structure.