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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Human (external) ear

The ear is the organ that detects sound. The vertebrate ear shows a common biology from fish to humans, with variations in structure according to order and species. It not only acts as a receiver for sound, but also plays a major role in the sense of balance and body position. The ear is part of the auditory system.

The word "ear" may be used correctly to describe the entire organ or just the visible portion. In most animals, the visible ear is a flap of tissue that is also called the pinna and is the first of many steps in hearing. In people, the pinna is often called the auricle. Vertebrates have a pair of ears, placed symmetrically on opposite sides of the face. This arrangement aids in the ability to localize sound sources.


Introduction to ears and hearing

Audition is the scientific name for the sense of sound. Sound is a form of energy that moves through air, water, and other matter, in waves of pressure. Sound is the means of auditory communication, including frog calls, bird songs and spoken language. Although the ear is the vertebrate sense organ that recognizes sound, it is the brain and central nervous system that "hears". Sound waves are perceived by the brain through the firing of nerve cells in the auditory portion of the central nervous system. The ear changes sound pressure waves from the outside world into a signal of nerve impulses sent to the brain.

Anatomy of the human ear. The length of the auditory canal is exaggerated for viewing purposes.

The outer part of the ear collects sound. That sound pressure is amplified through the middle portion of the ear and, in land animals, passed from the medium of air into a liquid medium. The change from air to liquid occurs because air surrounds the head and is contained in the ear canal and middle ear, but not in the inner ear. The inner ear is hollow, embedded in the temporal bone, the densest bone of the body. The hollow channels of the inner ear are filled with liquid, and contain a sensory epithelium that is studded with hair cells. The microscopic "hairs" of these cells are structural protein filaments that project out into the fluid. The hair cells are mechanoreceptors that release a chemical neurotransmitter when stimulated. Sound waves moving through fluid push the filaments; if the filaments bend over enough it causes the hair cells to fire. In this way sound waves are transformed into nerve impulses. In vision, the rods and cones of the retina play a similar role with light as the hair cells do with sound. The nerve impulses travel from the left and right ears through the eighth cranial nerve to both sides of the brain stem and up to the portion of the cerebral cortex dedicated to sound. This auditory part of the cerebral cortex is in the temporal lobe.

The part of the ear that is dedicated to sensing balance and position also sends impulses through the eighth cranial nerve, the VIIIth nerve's Vestibular Portion. Those impulses are sent to the vestibular portion of the central nervous system. The human ear can generally hear sounds with frequencies between 20 Hz and 20 kHz (the audio range). Although the sensation of hearing requires an intact and functioning auditory portion of the central nervous system as well as a working ear, human deafness (extreme insensitivity to sound) most commonly occurs because of abnormalities of the inner ear, rather than the nerves or tracts of the central auditory system.[1]

Mammalian ear

Bat pinnae come in different sizes and shapes

The shape of outer ear of mammals varies widely across species. However the inner workings of mammalian ears (including humans') are very similar.

Outer ear (pinna, ear canal, surface of ear drum)

The outer ear is the most external portion of the ear. The outer ear includes the pinna (also called auricle), the ear canal, and the very most superficial layer of the ear drum (also called the tympanic membrane). In humans, and almost all vertebrates, the only visible portion of the ear is the outer ear. Although the word "ear" may properly refer to the pinna (the flesh covered cartilage appendage on either side of the head), this portion of the ear is not vital for hearing. The outer ear does help get sound (and imposes filtering), but the ear canal is very important. Unless the canal is open, hearing will be dampened. Ear wax (cerumen) is produced by glands in the skin of the outer portion of the ear canal. This outer ear canal skin is applied to cartilage; the thinner skin of the deep canal lies on the bone of the skull. Only the thicker cerumen-producing ear canal skin has hairs. The outer ear ends at the most superficial layer of the tympanic membrane. The tympanic membrane is commonly called the ear drum. The pinna helps direct sound through the ear canal to the tympanic membrane (eardrum).

The framework of the auricle consists of a single piece of yellow fibrocartilage with a complicated relief on the anterior, concave side and a fairly smooth configuration on the posterior, convex side. The Darwinian tubercle, which is present in some people, lies in the descending part of the helix and corresponds to the true ear tip of the long-eared mammals. The lobule merely contains subcutaneous tissue.[2] In some animals with mobile pinnae (like the horse), each pinna can be aimed independently to better receive the sound. For these animals, the pinnae help localize the direction of the sound source. Human beings localize sound within the central nervous system, by comparing arrival-time differences and loudness from each ear, in brain circuits that are connected to both ears. This process is commonly referred to as EPS, or Echo Positioning System.

Human outer ear and culture

Stretching of the earlobe and various cartilage piercings

The auricles also have an effect on facial appearance. In Western societies, protruding ears (present in about 5% of ethnic Europeans) have been considered unattractive, particularly if asymmetric. The first surgery to reduce the projection of prominent ears was published in the medical literature in 1881.

The ears have also been ornamented with jewelry for thousands of years, traditionally by piercing of the earlobe. In some cultures, ornaments are placed to stretch and enlarge the earlobes to make them very large. Tearing of the earlobe from the weight of heavy earrings, or from traumatic pull of an earring (for example by snagging on a sweater being removed), is fairly common.[3] The repair of such a tear is usually not difficult.

A cosmetic surgical procedure to reduce the size or change the shape of the ear is called an otoplasty. In the rare cases when no pinna is formed (atresia), or is extremely small (microtia) reconstruction of the auricle is possible. Most often, a cartilage graft from another part of the body (generally, rib cartilage) is used to form the matrix of the ear, and skin grafts or rotation flaps are used to provide the covering skin.Recently ears have been grown on a rats back and attached to human heads after. However, when babies are born without an auricle on one or both sides, or when the auricle is very tiny, the ear canal is ordinarily either small or absent, and the middle ear often has deformities. The initial medical intervention is aimed at assessing the baby's hearing and the condition of the ear canal, as well as the middle and inner ear. Depending on the results of tests, reconstruction of the outer ear is done in stages, with planning for any possible repairs of the rest of the ear.[4][5][6]

Middle ear

The middle ear, an air-filled cavity behind the ear drum (tympanic membrane), includes the three ear bones or ossicles: the malleus (or hammer), incus (or anvil), and stapes (or stirrup). The opening of the Eustachian tube is also within the middle ear. The malleus has a long process (the manubrium, or handle) that is attached to the mobile portion of the eardrum. The incus is the bridge between the malleus and stapes. The stapes is the smallest named bone in the human body. The three bones are arranged so that movement of the tympanic membrane causes movement of the malleus, which causes movement of the incus, which causes movement of the stapes. When the stapes footplate pushes on the oval window, it causes movement of fluid within the cochlea (a portion of the inner ear).

In humans and other land animals the middle ear (like the ear canal) is normally filled with air. Unlike the open ear canal, however, the air of the middle ear is not in direct contact with the atmosphere outside the body. The Eustachian tube connects from the chamber of the middle ear to the back of the pharynx. The middle ear is very much like a specialized paranasal sinus, called the tympanic cavity; it, like the paranasal sinuses, is a hollow mucosa-lined cavity in the skull that is ventilated through the nose. The mastoid portion of the human temporal bone, which can be felt as a bump in the skull behind the pinna, also contains air, which is ventilated through the middle ear.

Middle Ear
Components of the middle ear

Normally, the Eustachian tube is collapsed, but it gapes open both with swallowing and with positive pressure. When taking off in an airplane, the surrounding air pressure goes from higher (on the ground) to lower (in the sky). The air in the middle ear expands as the plane gains altitude, and pushes its way into the back of the nose and mouth. On the way down, the volume of air in the middle ear shrinks, and a slight vacuum is produced. Active opening of the Eustachian tube is required to equalize the pressure between the middle ear and the surrounding atmosphere as the plane descends. The diver also experiences this change in pressure, but with greater rates of pressure change; active opening of the Eustachian tube is required more frequently as the diver goes deeper into higher pressure.

The arrangement of the tympanic membrane and ossicles works to efficiently couple the sound from the opening of the ear canal to the cochlea. There are several simple mechanisms that combine to increase the sound pressure. The first is the "hydraulic principle". The surface area of the tympanic membrane is many times that of the stapes footplate. Sound energy strikes the tympanic membrane and is concentrated to the smaller footplate. A second mechanism is the "lever principle". The dimensions of the articulating ear ossicles lead to an increase in the force applied to the stapes footplate compared with that applied to the malleus. A third mechanism channels the sound pressure to one end of the cochlea, and protects the other end from being struck by sound waves. In humans, this is called "round window protection", and will be more fully discussed in the next section.

Abnormalities such as impacted ear wax (occlusion of the external ear canal), fixed or missing ossicles, or holes in the tympanic membrane generally produce conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss may also result from middle ear inflammation causing fluid build-up in the normally air-filled space. Tympanoplasty is the general name of the operation to repair the middle ear's tympanic membrane and ossicles. Grafts from muscle fascia are ordinarily used to rebuild an intact ear drum. Sometimes artificial ear bones are placed to substitute for damaged ones, or a disrupted ossicular chain is rebuilt in order to conduct sound effectively.

Inner ear: cochlea, vestibule, and semi-circular canals

Inner Ear
Components of the inner ear

The inner ear includes both the organ of hearing (the cochlea) and a sense organ that is attuned to the effects of both gravity and motion (labyrinth or vestibular apparatus). The balance portion of the inner ear consists of three semi-circular canals and the vestibule. The inner ear is encased in the hardest bone of the body. Within this ivory hard bone, there are fluid-filled hollows. Within the cochlea are three fluid filled spaces: the tympanic canal, the vestibular canal, and the middle canal. The eighth cranial nerve comes from the brain stem to enter the inner ear. When sound strikes the ear drum, the movement is transferred to the footplate of the stapes, which presses into one of the fluid-filled ducts of the cochlea. The fluid inside this duct is moved, flowing against the receptor cells of the Organ of Corti, which fire. These stimulate the spiral ganglion, which sends information through the auditory portion of the eighth cranial nerve to the brain.

Hair cells are also the receptor cells involved in balance, although the hair cells of the auditory and vestibular systems of the ear are not identical. Vestibular hair cells are stimulated by movement of fluid in the semicircular canals and the utricle and saccule. Firing of vestibular hair cells stimulates the Vestibular portion of the eighth cranial nerve.[7]...

Damage to the human ear

Outer ear trauma


The auricle can be easily damaged. Because it is skin-covered cartilage, with only a thin padding of connective tissue, rough handling of the ear can cause enough swelling to jeopardize the blood-supply to its framework, the auricular cartilage. That entire cartilage framework is fed by a thin covering membrane called the perichondrium (meaning literally: around the cartilage). Any fluid from swelling or blood from injury that collects between the perichondrium and the underlying cartilage puts the cartilage in danger of being separated from its supply of nutrients. If portions of the cartilage starve and die, the ear never heals back into its normal shape. Instead, the cartilage becomes lumpy and distorted. Wrestler's Ear is one term used to describe the result, because wrestling is one of the most common ways such an injury occurs. Cauliflower ear is another name for the same condition, because the thickened auricle can resemble that vegetable.

The lobule of the ear (ear lobe) is the one part of the human auricle that normally contains no cartilage. Instead, it is a wedge of adipose tissue (fat) covered by skin. There are many normal variations to the shape of the ear lobe, which may be small or large. Tears of the earlobe can be generally repaired with good results. Since there is no cartilage, there is not the risk of deformity from a blood clot or pressure injury to the ear lobe.

Other injuries to the external ear occur fairly frequently, and can leave a major deformity. Some of the more common ones include, laceration from glass, knives, and bite injuries, avulsion injuries, cancer, frostbite, and burns.

Ear canal

Ear canal injuries can come from firecrackers and other explosives, and mechanical trauma from placement of foreign bodies into the ear. The ear canal is most often self-traumatized from efforts at ear cleaning. The outer part of the ear canal rests on the flesh of the head; the inner part rests in the opening of the bony skull (called the external auditory meatus). The skin is very different on each part. The outer skin is thick, and contains glands as well as hair follicles. The glands make cerumen (also called ear wax). The skin of the outer part moves a bit if the pinna is pulled; it is only loosely applied to the underlying tissues. The skin of the bony canal, on the other hand, is not only among the most delicate skin in the human body, it is tightly applied to the underlying bone. A slender object used to blindly clean cerumen out of the ear often results instead with the wax being pushed in, and contact with the thin skin of the bony canal is likely to lead to laceration and bleeding.

Middle ear trauma

Like outer ear trauma, middle ear trauma most often comes from blast injuries and insertion of foreign objects into the ear. Skull fractures that go through the part of the skull containing the ear structures (the temporal bone) can also cause damage to the middle ear. Small perforations of the tympanic membrane usually heal on their own, but large perforations may require grafting. Displacement of the ossicles will cause a conductive hearing loss that can only be corrected with surgery. Forcible displacement of the stapes into the inner ear can cause a sensory neural hearing loss that cannot be corrected even if the ossicles are put back into proper position. Because human skin has a top waterproof layer of dead skin cells that are constantly shedding, displacement of portions of the tympanic membrane or ear canal into the middle ear or deeper areas by trauma can be particularly traumatic. If the displaced skin lives within a closed area, the shed surface builds up over months and years and forms a cholesteatoma. The -oma ending of that word indicates a tumour in medical terminology, and although cholesteatoma is not a neoplasm (but a skin cyst), it can expand and erode the ear structures. The treatment for cholesteatoma is surgical.

Inner ear trauma

There are two principal damage mechanisms to the inner ear in industrialized society, and both injure hair cells. The first is exposure to elevated sound levels (noise trauma), and the second is exposure to drugs and other substances (ototoxicity).

In 1972 the U.S. EPA told Congress that at least 34 million people were exposed to sound levels on a daily basis that are likely to lead to significant hearing loss.[8] The worldwide implication for industrialized countries would place this exposed population in the hundreds of millions.

Vestigial structures

Comparative anatomy of primate ears: Human (left) and Barbary Macaque (right).

It has long been known that humans, and indeed other primates such as the orangutan and chimpanzee have ear muscles that are minimally developed and non-functional, yet still large enough to be easily identifiable.[9] These undeveloped muscles are vestigial structures. A muscle that cannot move the ear, for whatever reason, can no longer be said to have any biological function. This serves as evidence of homology between related species. In humans there is variability in these muscles, such that some people are able to move their ears in various directions, and it has been said that it may be possible for others to gain such movement by repeated trials.[9]

Invertebrate hearing organs

Only vertebrate animals have ears, although many invertebrates are able to detect sound using other kinds of sense organs. In insects, tympanal organs are used to hear distant sounds. They are not confined to the head, but can occur in different locations depending on the group of insects.[10]

The tympanal organs of some insects are extremely sensitive, offering acute hearing beyond that of most other animals. The female cricket fly Ormia ochracea has a tympanal organs on each side of her abdomen. They are connected by a thin bridge of exoskeleton and they function like a tiny pair of ear drums, but because they are linked, they provide acute directional information. The fly uses her "ears" to detect the call of her host, a male cricket. Depending on where the song of the cricket is coming from the fly's hearing organs will reverberate at slightly different frequencies. This difference may be as little as 50 billionths of a second, but it is enough to allow the fly to home in directly on a singing male cricket and parasitize it.[11]

Simpler structures allow arthropods to detect near field sounds. Spiders and cockroaches, for example, have hairs on their legs which are used for detecting sound. Caterpillars may also have hairs on their body that perceive vibrations[12] and allow them to respond to the sound.


  1. ^ Greinwald, John H. Jr MD; Hartnick, Christopher J. MD The Evaluation of Children With Hearing Loss. Archives of Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery. 128(1):84-87, January 2002
  2. ^ Stenström, J. Sten: Deformities of the ear; In: Grabb, W., C., Smith, J.S. (Edited): “Plastic Surgery”, Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1979, ISBN 0-316-32269-5 (C), ISBN 0-316-32268-7 (P)
  3. ^ Deborah S. Sarnoff, Robert H. Gotkin, and Joan Swirsky (2002). Instant Beauty: Getting Gorgeous on Your Lunch Break. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 031228697X. 
  4. ^ Lam SM. Edward Talbot Ely: father of aesthetic otoplasty. [Biography. Historical Article. Journal Article] Archives of Facial Plastic Surgery. 6(1):64, 2004 Jan-Feb.
  5. ^ Siegert R. Combined reconstruction of congenital auricular atresia and severe microtia. [Evaluation Studies. Journal Article] Laryngoscope. 113(11):2021-7; discussion 2028-9, 2003 Nov.
  6. ^ Trigg DJ. Applebaum EL. Indications for the surgical repair of unilateral aural atresia in children. [Review] [33 refs] [Journal Article. Review], American Journal of Otology. 19(5):679-84; discussion 684-6, 1998 September
  7. ^ Anson and Donaldson, Surgical Anatomy of the Temporal Bone, 4th Edition, Raven Press, 1992
  8. ^ Senate Public Works Committee, Noise Pollution and Abatement Act of 1972, S. Rep. No. 1160, 92nd Cong. 2nd session.
  9. ^ a b Darwin, Charles (1871). The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. John Murray: London.
  10. ^ Yack, JE, and JH Fullard, 1993. What is an insect ear? Ann. Entomol. Soc. Am. 86(6): 677-682.
  11. ^ Piper, Ross (2007), Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press.
  12. ^ Scoble, MJ. 1992. The Lepidoptera: Form, function, and diversity. Oxford University Press.

See also

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EAR (common Teut.; O.E. Bare, Ger. Ohr, Du. oor, akin to Lat. auris, Gr. as), in anatomy, the organ of hearing. The human ear is divided into three parts - external, middle and internal. The external ear consists of the pinna and the external auditory meatus. The pinna is composed of a yellow fibro-cartilaginous framework covered by skin, and has an external and an internal or cranial surface. Round the margin of the external surface in its upper three quarters is a rim called the helix (fig. 1, a), in which is often seen a little prominence FIG. - The Ear as seen in Section.

n, External auditory meatus.

o, Membrana tympani.

p, Tympanum.

points to malleus.

2, to incus.

3, to stapes.

4, to cochlea.

5, 6, 7, the three semicircular canals.

8 and 9, facial and auditory nerves.

known as Darwin's tubercle, representing the folded-over apex of a prick-eared ancestor. Concentric with the helix and nearer the meatus is the antihelix (b), which, above, divides into two limbs to enclose the triangular fossa of the antihelix. Between the helix and the antihelix is the fossa of the helix. In front of the antihelix is the deep fossa known as the concha (fig. 1, d), and from the anterior part of this the meatus passes inward into the skull. Overlapping the meatus from in front is a flap called the tragus, and below and behind this is another smaller flap, the antitragus. The lower part of the pinna is the lobule (e), which contains no cartilage. On the cranial surface of the pinna elevations correspond to the concha and to the fossae a, Helix.

b, Antitragus.

c, Antihelix.

d, Concha.

e, Lobule.

f, Mastoid process.

g, Portio dura.

h, Styloid process.

k, Internal carotid artery. 1, Eustachian tube.

m, Tip of petrous process.

of the helix and antihelix. The pinna can be slightly moved by the anterior, superior and posterior auricular muscles, and in addition to these there are four small intrinsic muscles on the external surface, known as the helicis major and minor, the tragicus and the antitragicus, and two on the internal surface called the obliquus and transversus. The external auditory meatus (fig. r, n) is a tube running at first forward and upward, then a little backward and then forward and slightly downward; of course all the time it is also running inward until the tympanic membrane is reached. The tube is about an inch long, its outer third being cartilaginous and its inner two-thirds bony. It is lined by skin in its whole length, the sweat glands of which are modified to secrete the wax or cerumen.

The middle ear or tympanum (fig. i, p) is a small cavity in the temporal bone, the shape of which may perhaps be realized by imagining a hock bottle subjected to lateral pressure in such a way that its circular section becomes triangular, the base of the triangle being above. The neck of the bottle, also laterally compressed, will represent the Eustachian tube (fig. i, 1), which runs forward, inward and downward, to open into the nasopharynx, and so admits air into the tympanum. The bottom of the bottle will represent the posterior wall of the tympanum, from the upper part of which an opening leads backward into the mastoid antrum and so into the air-cells of the mastoid process. Lower down is a little pyramid which transmits the stapedius muscle, and at the base of this is a small opening known as the iter chordae posterius, for the chorda tympani to come through from the facial nerve. The roof is formed by a very thin plate of bone, called the tegmen tympani, which separates the cavity from the middle fossa of the skull. Below the roof the upper part of the tympanum is somewhat constricted off from the rest, and to this part the term "attic" is often applied. The floor is a mere groove formed by the meeting of the external and internal walls. The outer wall is largely occupied by the tympanic membrane (fig. i, o), which entirely separates the middle ear from the external auditory meatus; it is circular, and so placed that it slopes from above, downward and inward, and from behind, forward and inward. Externally it is lined by skin, internally by mucous membrane, while between the two is a firm fibrous membrane, convex inward about its centre to form the umbo. Just in front of the membrane on the outer wall is the Glaserian fissure leading to the glenoid cavity, and close to this is the canal of Huguier for the chorda tympani nerve. The inner wall shows a promontory caused by the cochlea and grooved by thetympanic plexus of nerves; above and behind it is the fenestra ovalis, while below and behind the fenestra rotunda is seen, closed by a membrane. Curving round, above and behind the promontory and fenestrae, is a ridge caused by the aqueductus Fallopii or canal for the facial nerve. The whole tympanum is about half an inch from before backward, and half an inch high, and is spanned from side to side by three small bones, of which the malleus (fig. i, 1) is the most external. This is attached by its handle to the umbo of the tympanic membrane, while its head lies in the attic and articulates posteriorly with the upper part of the next bone or incus (fig. i, 2). The long process of the incus runs downward and ends in a little knob called the os orbiculare, which is jointed on to the stapes or stirrup bone (fig. i, The two branches of the stapes are anterior and posterior, while the footplate fits into the fenestra ovalis and is bound to it by a membrane. It will thus be seen that the stapes lies nearly at right angles to the long process of the incus. From the front of the malleus a slender process projects forward into the Glaserian fissure, while from the back of the incus the posterior process is directed backward and is attached to the posterior wall of the tympanum. These two processes form a fulcrum by which the lever action of the malleus and incus is brought about, so that when the handle of the malleus is pushed in by the membrane the head moves out; the top of the incus, attached to it, also moves out, and the os orbiculare moves in, and so the stapes is pressed into the fenestra ovalis. The stapedius and tensor tympanic muscles, the latter of which enters the tympanum in a canal just above the Eustachian tube to be attached to the malleus, modify the movements of the ossicles.

The mucous membrane lining the tympanum is continuous through the Eustachian tube with that of the naso-pharynx, and is reflected on to the ossicles, muscles and chorda tympani nerve. It is ciliated except where it covers the membrana. tympani, ossicles and promontory; here it is stratified.

The internal ear or labyrinth consists of a bony and a membranous part, the latter of which is contained in the former. The bony labyrinth is composed of the vestibule, the semicircular canals and the cochlea. The vestibule lies just internal to the posterior part of the tympanum, and there would be a communication between the two, through the fenestra ovalis, were it not that the foot plate of the stapes blocks the Dc way. The inner wall of the vestibule is separated from the bottom of the internal auditory meatus by a plate of bone pierced by many foramina for branches of the auditory nerve (fig. i, 9), while at the lower part is the opening of the aqueductus vestibuli, by means of which a communication is established with the posterior cranial fossa. Posteriorly the three semicircular canals open into the vestibule; of these the external (fig. i, 7) has two independent openings, but the superior and posterior (fig. i, 5 and 6) join together at one end and so have a common opening, while at their other ends they open separately. The three canals have therefore five openings into the vestibule instead of six. One end of each canal is dilated to form its ampulla. The superior semicircular canal is vertical, and the two pillars of its arch are nearly external and internal; the external canal is horizontal, its two pillars being anterior and posterior, while the convexity of the arch of the posterior canal is backward and its two pillars are superior and inferior. Anteriorly the vestibule leads into the cochlea (fig. z, 4), which is twisted two and a half times round a central pillar called the modiolus, the whole cochlea forming a rounded cone something like the shell of a snail though it is only about 5 mm. from base to apex. Projecting from the modiolus is a horizontal plate which runs round it from base to apex like a spiral staircase; this is known as the lamina spiralis, and it stretches nearly half-way across the canal of the cochlea. At the summit it ends in a little hook named the hamulus. The modiolus is pierced by canals which transmit branches of the auditory nerve to the lamina spiralis.

The membranous labyrinth lies in the bony labyrinth, but does not fill it; between the two is the fluid called perilymph, while inside the membranous labyrinth is the endolymph. In the bony vestibule lie two membranous bags, the saccule (fig. 2, S) in front, and the utric]e (fig. 2, U) behind; each of these has a special patch or macula to which twigs of the auditory nerve are supplied, and in the mucous membrane of which specialized hair cells are found (fig. 3, p). Attached to the maculae are crystals of carbonate of lime called otoconia. The membranous semicircular canals are very much smaller in section than the bony; in the ampulla of each is a ridge, the crista acustica, which is covered by a mucous FIG. 2. - Diagram of the Membranous Labyrinth.

DC, Ductus cochlearis.

dr, Ductus reuniens.

S, Sacculus.

U, Utriculus.

dv, Ductus endolymphaticus. SC, Semicircular canals.

(After Waldeyer.) FIG. 3. - cl, Columnar cells covering the crista acustica; p, peripheral, and c, central processes of auditory cells; n, nerve fibres. (After Riidinger.) membrane containing sensory hair cells like those in the maculae. All the canals open into the utricle. From the lower part of the saccule a small canal called the ductus endolymphaticus (fig. 2, dv) runs into the aqueductus vestibuli; it is soon joined by a small duct from the utricle, and ends, close to the dura mater of the posterior fossa of the cranium, as the saccus endolymphaticus, which may have minute perforations through which the endolymph can pass. Anteriorly the saccule communicates with the membranous cochlea or scala media by a short ductus reuniens (fig. 2, dr). A section through each turn of the cochlea shows the bony lamina spiralis, already noticed, which is continued right across the canal by the basilar membrane (fig. 4, bm), thus cutting the canal into an upper and lower half and connected with the outer wall by the strong spiral ligament (fig. 4, sl). Near the free end of the lamina spiralis another membrane called the membrane of Reissner (fig. 4, mR) is attached, and runs outward and upward to the outer wall, taking a triangular slice out of the upper half of the section. There are now three canals seen in section, the upper of which is the scala vestibuli (fig. 4, SV), the middle and outer the scala media, ductus cochlearis or true membranous cochlea (fig. 4, DC), while the lower is the scala tympani (fig. 4, ST). The scala vestibuli and scala tympani communicate at the apex of the cochlea by an opening known as the helicotrema, so that the perilymph can here pass from one canal to the other. At the base of the cochlea the FIG. 4. - Transverse Section through the Tube of the Cochlea. Modiolus.

0, Outer wall of cochlea.

SV, Scala vestibuli. ST, Scala tympani.

DC, Ductus cochlearis. mR, Membrane of Reissner.

perilymph in the scala vestibuli is continuous with that in the vestibule, but that in the scala tympani bathes the inner surface of the membrane stretched across the fenestra rotunda, and also communicates with the subarachnoid space through the aqueductus cochleae, which opens into the posterior cranial fossa. The scala media containing endolymph communicates, as has been shown, with the saccule through the canalis reuniens, while, at the apex of the cochlea, it ends in a blind extremity of consider able morphological interest called the lagena.

The scala media contains the essential organ of hearing or organ of Corti (fig. 4, oc), which lies upon the inner part of the basilar membrane; it consists of a tunnel bounded on each side of the inner and outer rods of Corti; on each side of these are the inner and outer hair cells, between the latter of which are found the supporting cells of Deiters. Most externally are the large cells of Hensen. A delicate membrane called the lamina reticularis covers the top of all these, and is pierced by the hairs of the hair cells, while above this is the loose membrana tectoria attached to the periosteum of the lamina spiralis, near its tip, internally, and possibly to some of Deiter's cells externally. The cochlear branch of the auditory nerve enters the lamina spiralis, where a spiral ganglion (fig. 4, sg) is developed on it; after this it is distributed to the inner and outer hair cells.

For further details see Text-Book of Anatomy, edited by D. J. Cunningham (Edinburgh, 1906); Quain's Elements of Anatomy (London, 1893); Gray's Anatomy (London, 1905); A Treatise on Anatomy, edited by H. Morris (London, 1902); A Text-Book of Human Anatomy, by A. Macalister (London, 1889).

Table of contents


The pinna is formed from six tubercles which appear round the dorsal end of the hyomandibular cleft or, more strictly speaking, pouch. Those for the tragus and anterior part of the helix belong to the first or mandibular arch, while those for the antitragus, antihelix and lobule come from the second or hyoid arch. The tubercle for the helix is dorsal to the end of the cleft where the two arches join. The external auditory meatus, tympanum and Eustachian tube are remains of the hyomandibular cleft, the membrana tympani being a remnant of the cleft membrane and therefore lined by ectoderm outside and entoderm inside. The origin of the ossicles is very doubtful. H. Gadow's view, which is one of the latest, is that all three are derived from the hyomandibular plate which connects the dorsal ends of the hyoid and mandibular bars (Anatomischer Anzeiger, Bd. xix., 1901, p. 396). Other papers which should be consulted are those of E. Gaupp, Anatom. Hefte, Ergebnisse, Bd. 8, 1898, p. 99 1, and J. A. Hammar, Archiv f. mikr. Anat. lix., 1902. These papers will give a clue to the immense literature of the subject. The internal ear first appears as a pit from the cephalic ectoderm, the mouth of which in Man and other mammals closes up, so that a pear-shaped cavity is left. The stalk of the pear which is nearest the point of invagination is called the recessus labyrinthi, and this, after losing its connexion with the surface of the embryo, grows backward toward the posterior cranial fossa and becomes the ductus endolymphaticus. The lower part of the vesicle grows forward and becomes the cochlea, while from the upper part three hollow circular plates grow out, the central parts of which disappear, leaving the margin as the semicircular canals. Subsequently constrictions appear in the vesicle marking off the saccule and utricle. From the surrounding Outer rod of Corti Inner rod of Corti Outer hair cells Inner hair cell Hensen's stripe Membrana tectoria Sul cus spiral is internus Cells of Hensen Membrana basilaris Cells of Claudius Limbus laminae spiral is Inner spiral fasciculus Vas spirale Tunnel of Corti (From R. Howden - Cunningham's FIG. 5. - Transverse Section of Corti's Organ from the Central Coil Cells of Deiters Space of Nuel of Cochlea (Retzius).

bm, Basilar membrane. cs, Crista spiralis. sl, Spiral ligament.

sg, Spiral ganglion of auditory nerve.

oc, Organ of Corti.

mesoderm the petrous bone is formed by a process of chondrification and ossification.

See W. His, Junr., Archiv f. Anat. and Phys., 1889, supplement, p. 1; also Streeter, Am. Journ. of Anat. vi., 1907.

Comparative Anatomy

The ectodermal inpushing of the internal ear has probably a common origin with the organs of the lateral line of fish. In the lower forms the ductus endolymphaticus retains its communication with the exterior on the dorsum of the head, and in some Elasmobranchs the opening is wide enough to allow the passage of particles of sand into the saccule. It is probable that this duct is the same which, taking a different direction and losing its communication with the skin, abuts on the posterior cranial fossa of higher forms (see Rudolf Krause, "Die Entwickelung des Aq. vestibuli seu d. Endelymphaticus," Anat. Anzeiger, Bd. xix., 1901, p. 4 9). In certain Teleostean fishes the swim bladder forms a secondary communication with the internal ear by means of special ossicles (see G. Ridewood, Journ. Anat. & Phys. vol. xxvi.). Among the Cyclostomata the external semicircular canals are wanting; Petromyzon has the superior and posterior only, while in Myxine these two appear to be fused so that only one is seen. In higher types the three canals are constant. Concretions of carbonate of lime are present in the internal ears of almost all vertebrates; when these are very small they are called otoconia, but when, as in most of the teleostean fishes, they form huge concretions, they are spoken of as otoliths. One shark, Squatina, has sand instead of otoconia (C. Stewart, Journ. Linn. Society, xxix. 409). The utricle, saccule, semicircular canals, ductus endolymphaticus and a short lagena are the only parts of the ear present in fish.

The Amphibia have an important sensory area at the base of the lagena known as the macula acustica basilaris, which is probably the first rudiment of a true cochlea. The ductus endolymphaticus has lost its communication with the skin, but it is frequently prolonged into the skull and along the spinal canal, from which it protrudes, through the intervertebral foramina, bulging into the coelom. This is the case in the common frog (A. Coggi, Anat. Anz. 5. Jahrg., 1890, p. 177). In this class the tympanum and Eustachian tube are first developed; the membrana tympani lies flush with the skin of the side of the head, and the sound-waves are transmitted from it to the internal ear by a single bony rod - the columella.

In the Reptilia the internal ear passes through a great range of development. In the Chelonia and Ophidia the cochlea is as rudimentary as in the Amphibia, but in the higher forms (Crocodilia) there is a lengthened and slightly twisted cochlea, at the end of which the lagena forms a minute terminal appendage. At the same time indications of the scalae tympani and vestibuli appear. As in the Amphibia the ductus endolymphaticus sometimes extends into the cranial cavity and on into other parts of the body. Snakes have no tympanic membrane. In the birds the cochlea resembles that of the crocodiles, but the posterior semicircular canal is above the superior where they join one another. In certain lizards and birds (owls) a small fold of skin represents the first appearance of an external ear. In the monotremes the internal ear is reptilian in its arrangement, but above them the mammals always have a spirally twisted cochlea, the number of turns varying from one and a half in the Cetacea to nearly five in the rodent Coelogenys. The lagena is reduced to a mere vestige. The organ of Corti is peculiar to mammals, and the single columella of the middle ear is replaced by the three ossicles already described in Man (see Alban Doran, "Morphology of the Mammalian Ossicula auditus," Proc. Linn. Soc., 1876-1877, xiii. 185; also Trans. Linn. Soc. 2nd Ser. Zool. i. 371). In some mammals, especially Carnivora, the middle ear is enlarged to form the tympanic bulla, but the mastoid cells are peculiar to Man.

For further details see G. Retzius, Das Geharorgan der Wirbelthiere (Stockholm, 1881-1884); Catalogue ofp, the Museum of the R. College of Surgeons - Physiological Series, vol. iii. (London, 1906); R. Wiedersheim's Vergleichende Anatomie der Wirbeltiere (Jena, 1902). (F. G. P.) Diseases Of The Ear Modern scientific aural surgery and medicine (commonly known as Otology) dates from the time of Sir William Wilde of Dublin (1843), whose work marked a great advance in the application of anatomical, physiological and therapeutical knowledge to the study of this organ. Less noticeable contributions to the subject had not long before been made by Saunders (1827), Kramer (1833), Pilcher (1841) and Yearsley (1841). The next important event in the history of otology was the publication of J. Toynbee's book in 1860 containing his valuable anatomical and pathological observations. Von Trdltsch of Wiirzburg, following on the lines of Wilde and Toynbee, produced two well-known works in 1861 and 1862, laying the foundation of the study in Germany. In that country and in Austria he was followed by Hermann Schwartze, Politzer, Gruber, Weber-Liel, Riidinger, Moos and numerous others. France produced Itard, de la Charriere, Meniere, Loewenberg and Bonnafont; and Belgium, Charles Delstanche, father and son. In Great Britain the work was carried on by James Hinton (1874), Peter Allen (1871), Patterson Cassells and Sir William Dalby. In America we may count among the early otologists Edward H. Clarke (1858), D. B. St John Roosa, H. Knapp, Clarence J. Blake, Albert H. Buck and Charles Burnett. Other workers all over the world are too numerous to mention.

Various Diseases and Injuries. - Diseases of the ear may affect any of the three divisions, the external, middle or internal ear. The commoner affections of the auricle are eczema, various tumours (simple and malignant), and serous and sebaceous cysts. Haematoma auris (othaematoma), or effusion of blood into the auricle, is often due to injury, but may occur spontaneously, especially in insane persons. The chief diseases of the external auditory canal are as follows: - impacted cerumen (or wax), circumscribed (or furuncular) inflammation, diffuse inflammation, strictures due to inflammatory affections, bony growths, fungi (otomycosis), malignant disease, caries and necrosis, and foreign bodies.

Diseases of the middle ear fall into two categories, suppurative and non-suppurative (i.e. with and without the formation of pus). Suppurative inflammation of the middle ear is either acute or chronic, and is in either case accompanied by perforation of the drum head and discharge from the ear. The chief importance of these affections, in addition to the symptoms of pain, deafness, discharge, &c., is the serious complications which may ensue from their neglect, viz. aural polypi, caries and necrosis of the bone, affections of the mastoid process, including the mastoid antrum, paralysis of the facial nerve, and the still more serious intracranial and vascular infective diseases, such as abscess in the brain (cerebrum or cerebellum), meningitis, with subdural and extradural abscesses, septic thrombosis of the sigmoid and other venous sinuses, and pyaemia. It is owing to the possibility of these complications that life insurance companies usually, and rightly, inquire as to the presence of ear discharge before accepting a life. Patterson Cassells of Glasgow urged this special point as long ago as 1877. Acute suppurative disease of the middle ear is often due to the exanthemata, scarlatina, measles and smallpox, and to bathing and diving. It may also be caused by influenza, diphtheria and pulmonary phthisis.

Non-suppurative disease of the middle ear may be acute or chronic. In the acute form the inflammation is less violent than in the acute suppurative inflammation, and is rarely accompanied by perforation. Chronic non-suppurative inflammation may be divided into the moist form, in which the symptoms are improved by inflation of the tympanum through the Eustachian tube, and the dry form (including sclerosis), which is more intractable and in which this procedure has little or no beneficial effect. Diseases of the internal ear may be primary or secondary to an affection of the tympanum or to intracranial disease.

Injuries to any part of the ear may occur, among the commoner being injuries to the auricle, rupture of the drum head (from explosions, blows on the ear or the introduction of sharp bodies into the ear canal), and injuries from fractured skull. Congenital malformations of the ear are most frequently met with in the auricle and external canal.

Methods of Examination

The methods of examining the ear are roughly threefold: - (r) Testing the hearing with watch, voice and tuning-fork. The latter is especially used to distinguish between disease of the middle ear (conducting apparatus) and that of the internal ear (perceptive apparatus). Our knowledge of the subject has been brought to its present state by the labours of many observers, notably Weber, Rinne, Schwabach, Lucae and Gelle. (2) Examination of the canal and drum-head with speculum and reflector, introduced by Kramer, Wilde and von Troltsch. (3) Examination of the drum-cavity through the Eustachian tube by the various methods of inflation.


The chief symptoms of ear diseases are deafness, noises in the ear (tinnitus aurium), giddiness, pain and discharge. Deafness (or other disturbance of hearing) and noises may occur from disease in almost any part of the ear. Purulent discharge usually comes from the middle ear. Giddiness is more commonly associated with affections of the internal ear.


Ear diseases are treated on ordinary surgical and medical lines, due regard being had to the anatomical and physiological peculiarities of this organ of sense, and especially to its close relationship, on the one hand to the nose and naso-pharynx, and on the other hand to the cranium and its contents. The chief advance in aural surgery in recent years has been in the surgery of the mastoid process and antrum. The pioneers of this work were H. Schwartze of Halle, and Stacke of Erfurt, who have been followed by a host of workers in all parts of the world. This development led to increased attention being paid to the intracranial complications of suppurative ear disease, in the treatment of which great strides have been made in the last few years.

Effects of Diseases of the Nose on the Ear

The influence of diseases of the nose and naso-pharynx on ear diseases was brought out by Loewenberg of Paris, Voltolini of Breslau, and especially by Wilhelm Meyer of Copenhagen, the discoverer of adenoid vegetations of the naso-pharynx ("adenoids"), who recognized the great importance of this disease and gave an inimitable account of it in the Trans. of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, 1870, and the Archiv fiir Ohrenheilkunde, 1873. Adenoid vegetations, which consist of an abnormal enlargement of Luschka's tonsil in the vault of the pharynx, frequently give rise to ear disease in children, and, if not attended to, lay the foundation of nasal and ear troubles in after life. They are often associated with enlargement of the faucial tonsils.


In 1864 the Archiv fur Ohrenheilkunde was started by Politzer and Schwartze, and, in 1867, the Monatsschrift fiir Ohrenheilkunde (a monthly publication) was founded by Voltolini, Gruber, Weber-Liel and Riidinger. Appearing first as the Archives of Ophthalmology and Otology, simultaneously in English and German, in 1869, the Archives of Otology became a separate publication under the editorship of Knapp, Moos and Roosa in 1879. Amongst other journals now existing are Annales des maladies de l'oreille et du larynx (Paris), Journal of Laryngology (London), Centralblatt fur Ohrenheilkunde (Leipzig), &c.


The earliest society formed was the American Otological Society (1868), which held annual meetings and published yearly transactions. Flourishing societies for the study of otology (sometimes combined with laryngology) exist in almost all civilized countries, and they usually publish transactions consisting of original papers and cases, The Otological Society of the United Kingdom was founded in 1900.

International Congresses

International Otological congresses have been held at intervals of about four years at New York, Milan, Basel, Brussels, Florence, London and Bordeaux (1904). The proceedings of the congresses appear as substantial volumes.


The earliest record of a public institution for the treatment of ear diseases is a Dispensary for Diseases of the Eye and Ear in London, started by Saunders and Cooper, which existed in 1804; the aural part, however, was soon closed, so that the actual oldest institution appears to be the Royal Ear Hospital, London, which was founded by Curtis in 1816. Four years later there was started the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. At the present time in every large town of Europe and America ear diseases are treated either in separate departments of general hospitals or in institutions especially devoted to the purpose.

For a history of otology from the earliest times refer to A Practical Treatise on the Diseases of the Ear, by D. B. St John Roosa, M.D., LL.D. (6th edition, New York, 1885), and for a general account of the present state of otological science to A Text-Book of the Diseases of the Ear for Students and Practitioners, by Professor Dr Adam Politzer, transl. by Milton J. Ballin, Ph.B., M.D., and Clarence J. Heller, M.D. (4th edition, London, 1902). (E. C. B.*)

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

A human ear.
See also -ear




Etymology 1

Old English ēare, from Proto-Germanic *auson, from Proto-Indo-European *h₂ous-. Cognate with Dutch oor, German Ohr, Swedish öra; and with Ancient Greek οὖς, Latin auris, Russian ухо.


Wikipedia has an article on:




ear (plural ears)

  1. (countable) The organ of hearing, consisting of the pinna, auditory canal, eardrum, malleus, incus, stapes and cochlea.
  2. (countable) The external part of the organ of hearing, the auricle.
  3. (countable) (slang) A police informant.
    • From the movie The Enforcer.
      If you don’t cooperate, I’ll put it out on the street that you’re an ear.
Derived terms
  • Look at pages starting with ear.
The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

See also

Etymology 2

Old English ēar




ear (plural ears)

  1. (countable) The fruiting body of a grain plant.
    He is in the fields, harvesting ears of corn.

Etymology 3

Old English erian


to ear

Third person singular

Simple past

Past participle

Present participle

to ear (third-person singular simple present ears, present participle earing, simple past and past participle eared)

  1. (archaic) To plough.
    • 1595, William Shakespeare, Richard II
      That power I have, discharge; and let them go
      To ear the land that hath some hope to grow,
      For I have none.


Old English

Etymology 1

Akin to Old Norse aur


ēar m

  1. sea
  2. earth

Etymology 2

Proto-Germanic *ahiz, whence also Old High German ahir (German Ähre), Old Saxon ahar (Dutch aar), Old Norse ax. From a Proto-Indo-European root ak ('pointed'); compare Latin acus "needle"



  1. ear (of corn)

Scottish Gaelic



  1. east

West Frisian


ear n.

  1. ear

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

used frequently in a figurative sense (Ps. 34:15). To "uncover the ear" is to show respect to a person (1 Sam. 20:2 marg.). To have the "ear heavy", or to have "uncircumcised ears" (Isa. 6:10), is to be inattentive and disobedient. To have the ear "bored" through with an awl was a sign of perpetual servitude (Ex. 21:6).

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Simple English


The ear is the part of the body that lets people hear. Some animals, like people and most vertebrates, have two ears, but some animals do not hear through ears. Spiders have small hairs on their legs that they can hear with.

The ear works by directing sound to the inner ear. These vibrations are sent to the brain by a network of nerves.

The part of the ear that sticks out and can be seen is called the pinna.

Ears also are used for other purposes. Elephants use their large ears to cool themselves when it is very hot.

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