The ear is the primary organ of hearing and balance and is consists of very small tissues and delicate structures which all work together to aid in the hearing process.
The ear is consist of three parts, namely:
The outer ear – The outer ear, which shields the delicate bones and tissues located inside the ear, is consist of a skin-covered cartilage called the pinna and the ear canal. The sounds funnel through the pinna into the external auditory canal, which ends at the tympanic membrane or the eardrum.
The middle ear – Also referred to as tympanic cavity, this part is located in between the ear canal and the auditory nerve, cochlea, and Eustachian tube. This membrane-lined and air-filled space is pressurized and translates sound waves into mechanical vibrations with the main goal of stimulating the inner ear.
The inner ear – This is the part of the ear where sound pressure impulses are converted into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret. The nerve endings responsible for balance as well as the cochlea, auditory nerves, and the vestibular are also located here. Attached to the cochlea are fluid-filled semicircular canals and nerves in the inner ear, which send information about head position and balance to the brain. Meanwhile, the Eustachian tube drains fluid from the middle ear into the throat.
Common Ear Problems/Conditions
Otitis media - This is a condition characterized by an infection or inflammation of the middle ear. Bacteria or viruses may enter the middle ear and cause infection, leading to fluid or pus buildup. Pressure from such build-up causes pain and limits the capacity of the eardrum to vibrate, causing a decrease in hearing.
Tinnitus - This ear disorder manifests as a persistent "ringing" felt in the ear and can range from roaring to humming or buzzing sounds. It is caused by damage to the nerve endings found in the inner ear, often due to constant exposure to abnormally loud noise.
Autoimmune inner ear disease - A relatively rare inflammatory disease where the cells of the inner ear are mistaken by the body's immune system as a bacteria or virus and attacks them.
Perforated eardrum - A condition characterized by a rupture or hole in the eardrum, usually caused by injury.
Otosclerosis - An ear condition wherein an abnormal bone fixes ear structures in a position that restricts proper vibration of sound waves, leading to conductive hearing loss.
Meniere’s Disease - A disorder of the inner ear (usually chronic) which symptoms include severe dizziness, tinnitus, hearing loss, feeling of ear pressure, and pain. The cause of this disease is yet to be confirmed, but is linked to abnormal buildup of fluid in the inner ear.
Common Ear Procedures and Surgeries
Ear tube insertion - A technique wherein small tubes are inserted into the eardrum to drain excess fluids for the treatment of otitis media and other ear infections. This is a minimally invasive procedure and performed when antibiotics fail to effectively treat the condition.
Myringoplasty - This procedure is performed to treat ruptured or damaged eardrum. It seeks to close the middle ear through tissue grafts to remedy the defect in the eardrum.
Tympanoplasty - A procedure performed to thoroughly check all spaces in the ear for potential disease through a small incision made behind the ear. It aims to improve the sound transmission mechanism in the ear, eliminate infection, and improve hearing loss. This is often done as an outpatient procedure and helps prevent recurring ear infections by providing more space in the middle ear.
Cosmetic ear surgery – This is aims to improve the appearance of the outer ear and facial proportion. Usually performed as an outpatient procedure and under local anesthesia, it involves the removal of the skin and cartilage (without affecting the structures in the middle and inner ear) to achieve a more pleasing appearance.