Visit our foundation to give a gift.
View Locations Near Me
Main Campus – Hartford
Connecticut Children’s – Waterbury
Urgent Care – Farmington
Specialty Care Center – Danbury
Connecticut Children’s Surgery Center at Farmington
Specialty Care Center – Fairfield
Search All Locations
Find a doctor
Find A Doctor
Request an Appointment
Amenities and Services
Who’s Who on Care Team
Getting Ready for Surgery
What to Expect—Picture Stories
Pay a Bill
Understanding the Different Fees
Pricing Transparency and Estimates
Raytheon Technologies Family Resource Center
Family Advisory Council
Legal Advocacy: Benefits, Education, Housing
Electronic Health Records
Share Your Story
Pay a Bill
Login to MyChart
Clinical Support Services Referrals
About the Network
Join the Network
Graduate Medical Education
Continuing Medical Education
MOC/Practice Quality Improvement
Educating Practices in the Community (EPIC)
Learning & Performance
Meet our Physician Relations Team
Request Medical Records
Join our Referring Provider Advisory Board
View our Physician Callback Standards
Read & Subscribe to Medical News
Register for Email Updates
Update Your Practice Information
Refer a Patient
Find and Print Health Info
Health Information For Parents
The ear is made up of three different sections that work together to collect sounds and send them to the brain: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.
The outer ear is made up of the pinna — also called the auricle (OR-ih-kul) — and the ear canal. The pinna is the part of the ear you see on the side of your head and is made of tough cartilage covered by skin. Its main job is to gather sounds and funnel them to the ear canal, which is the pathway that leads to the middle ear. Glands in the skin lining the ear canal produce earwax, which protects the canal by cleaning out dirt and helping to prevent infections.
The middle ear is an air-filled cavity that turns sound waves into vibrations and delivers them to the inner ear. The middle ear is separated from the outer ear by the eardrum, or tympanic membrane, a thin piece of tissue stretched tight across the ear canal. Sounds hit the eardrum, causing it to move.
This movement leads to vibrations of three very small bones in the middle ear known as the ossicles (AH-sih-kuls). The ossicles are:
To hear properly, the pressure on both sides of your eardrum must be equal. When you go up or down in elevation, the air pressure changes and you may feel a popping sensation as your ears adjust. Ears adjust thanks to the narrow Eustachian (yoo-STAY-she-en) tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the nose and acts as a sort of pressure valve, so the pressure stays balanced on both sides of the eardrum.
The vibrations from the middle ear change into nerve signals in the inner ear. The inner ear includes the cochlea (KOH-klee-uh) and the semicircular canals.The snail-shaped cochlea changes the vibrations from the middle ear into nerve signals. These signals travel to the brain along the cochlear nerve, also known as the auditory nerve.
The semicircular canals look like three tiny, connected tubes. It’s their job to help you balance. The canals are filled with fluid and lined with tiny hairs. When your head moves, the fluid in the canals sloshes around, moving the hairs. The hairs send this position information as signals through the vestibular nerve to your brain. The brain interprets these signals and sends messages to the muscles that help keep you balanced.
When you spin around and stop, the reason you feel dizzy is because the fluid in your semicircular canals continues to slosh around for awhile, giving your brain the idea that you’re still spinning even when you aren’t. When the fluid stops moving, the dizziness goes away.
The cochlear nerve, which is attached to the cochlea and sends sound information to the brain, and the vestibular (veh-STIB-yuh-ler) nerve, which carries balance information from the semicircular canals to the brain, together make up the vestibulocochlear (vess-tib-yuh-lo-KOH-klee-er) nerve.
Teach kids not to stick things like cotton swabs and fingernails into ears. Doing so can scratch the ear canal, push earwax deeper into the ear, and even rupture the eardrum. If your child is bothered by earwax, talk to your doctor.
Teach kids to protect their hearing by paying attention to the noise levels they’re exposed to. Have them turn down the volume on video games, TVs, and, especially, portable music players. Make sure they take hearing protection (like earplugs or protective earmuffs/headphones) when they’ll be around loud noises (at a concert, car race, etc.).
If your child has any trouble hearing, reach out to your doctor. Treating hearing loss early can limit the damage.
Hearing problems can be overcome if they’re caught early, so it’s important to get your child’s hearing screened early and checked regularly.
Ear injuries not only can affect a child’s hearing, but sense of balance too. That’s because our ears also help keep us steady on our feet.
Ear infections are common among kids and, often, painful. Find out what causes them and how they’re treated.
Find out what the experts have to say.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal caused by many types of bacteria or fungi. Find out how to prevent it.
Cochlear implant can help many kids with severe hearing loss. Find out how they work and who can get them.
A “popped” eardrum is more than just painful – it can sometimes lead to hearing loss. Learn about ruptured eardrums and how to prevent them.
Earwax helps protect the eardrum and fight infection. Parents shouldn’t attempt to remove earwax at home, as doing so risks damage to the ear canal and, possibly, a child’s hearing.
An earache requires a visit to the doctor’s office. Here’s what to do if your child complains of ear pain.
Ototoxicity is when a person develops hearing or balance problems. Learn about this side effect of taking certain medicines.
Most kids stumble and fall from time to time, but a child who continually loses his or her balance might have a balance disorder.
Hearing is their main job, but it’s not all your earsÂ do. Find out all about them in this body basics article for teens.
Hearing impairment occurs when there’s a problem with or damage to one or more parts of the ear. Find out its causes and what can be done to help correct it.
Want to hear what’s being said to you, by you, and about you? Find out how hearing aids help people with certain types of hearing loss.
Earbuds are basically a tiny pair of speakers that go inside the ears. They’re fine at low volumes, but they can cause permanent hearing loss if not used properly. Find out what’s safe (and not) in this article for teens.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal that can be caused by different types of bacteria or fungi. Find out how to prevent or treat it.
How do you take care of your ears? Find out in this article for kids.
Hearing loss happens when there is a problem with the ear, nerves connected to the ear, or the part of the brain that controls hearing. Someone who has hearing loss may be able to hear some sounds or nothing at all. To learn more, read this article for kids.
Loud music can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss. Learn how to protect your ears so you won’t be saying, “Huh? What did you say?”
You swam! You splashed! And now you have it: swimmer’s ear.
A middle ear infection happens when germs like bacteria and viruses get in your middle ear and cause trouble. Read this article to find out more.
Why do our ears make earwax? Find out in this article for kids.
Have you ever seen someone whose ear looks bumpy and lumpy? It could be cauliflower ear! Find out more in this article for kids.
Nurb and Chloe explain what goes on inside your ears so you can hear. Watch the How the Body Works movie!
The ears gather sounds from our environment and turn them into messages for the brain to decode. Learn more in this video about the ears.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.