Hearing is one of the five main senses (the others see, taste, smell and touch). Your ears are responsible for collecting the sounds around you, turning those sounds into electrical signals, and then sending all of that information to the brain. The ear is made up of three main parts: the outer, middle, and inner ear. The outer ear, which is the part we can see, collects the sounds around it and carries them to the eardrum, which is part of the middle ear. The eardrum vibrates, which causes small bones in your middle ear to move, making the vibrations larger and transmitted to the inner ear, where the sounds are converted into electrical signals.
The inner ear, which processes sounds, also helps with balance. It is located in the temporal bone, which is the hardest bone in the body and is part of your skull.
You’re born with about 3500 of these cells, and they can be damaged by really loud noises. Make sure to wear ear plugs if you’ll be around loud noises!
The middle ear contains the three tiniest and most fragile bones in your body. These transmit sound from the ear drum to the inner ear. They are named for the way they look – the malleus, incus, and stapes.
Malleus means hammer in latin, incus means anvil in latin, and stapes means stirrup in latin. Of these, the stapes is the smallest, making it the smallest bone in your body.
Have you ever popped your ears? When you go up or down a very large hill or mountain, the pressure of the air changes. This puts pressure on your middle ear, which causes the popping sound. This occurs through tiny tubes (Eustachian tubes) that go from your middle ear to the back of your nose, which help to make the pressures the same. These can get blocked when you have a cold, making going up and down large hills painful.
Antioxidants – folic acid in particular – and the consumption of leafy green vegetables such as spinach and romaine lettuce are beneficial in preventing hearing issues caused by exposure to noise.
Why do you sometimes feel a little sick or dizzy after getting off a ride like the Tilt-A-Whirl? Special loops in your inner ear, called semicircular canals, help with your balance. These canals are filled with fluid, which moves with your head, and move tiny hairs inside the canals, which tells your brain which way your head is moving. When you are spinning (like in the Tilt-A-Whirl) this liquid gets to spinning too. When the ride is over, the liquid is still spinning, but your eyes tell your brain you are not moving. Since your brain is getting two different messages, it gets confused, and you get dizzy as a result.
Hearing problems can be prevented with diet: Omega 3 fatty acids, which are found in fish such as salmon or tuna, strengthen the blood vessels in the inner ear.
Don’t poke around in your ears! Even though you may want to clean out that ear wax (which helps by protecting the ear from infections, and cleaning out dirt), if you push too far in with an object you can damage the ear drum.
A study by the University of Newcastle has identified the most unpleasant sounds, which include a knife scraping against a bottle, a fork scratching on a plate, chalk on a blackboard, a ruler on a bottle, nails on a blackboard, a baby crying, an electric drill, rusty swing chains, a person retching and two pieces of expanded polystyrene rubbing together.