Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content


4-minute read

What are ears?

Your ears are important for hearing the sounds around you. They are also important for balance.

Each of your ears has 3 parts — the outer, middle, and inner ear.

The outer ear

The outer ear includes the:
  • visible part of the ear (pinna)
  • external auditory canal (ear canal)
  • tympanic membrane (eardrum)

The pinna is made of cartilage, covered by skin. It funnels sound through to the external (outer) ear canal and the eardrum.

The eardrum is a tiny membrane, almost like skin stretched very thin. The eardrum moves backwards and forwards in response to sound waves.

The middle ear

The middle ear includes the ossicles (ear bones) and the auditory tube (Eustachian tube).

The vibrations of the eardrum cause the tiny bones in the middle ear to vibrate. The bones are called the malleus, the incus and the stapes. The vibrations in the bones of the middle ear are then transferred to your inner ear.

The auditory tube (also called the Eustacian tube) connects your middle ear to the back of your nose and throat.

The inner ear

The hearing part of the inner ear is made up of the cochlea. The cochlea is spiral-shaped like a snail's shell. It transforms sound into nerve impulses. These travel to your brain, which turns the messages in the nerves into what we call hearing.

In your inner ear, there is also a part known as the vestibular system. This has 3 canals called semicircular canals. They are filled with fluid, and the fluid moves in different directions as your head moves. Sensors in your vestibular system tell your brain which way your head is moving.

Ear problems

There are ear diseases and disorders that can affect your hearing and balance.

Hearing loss

Hearing loss or deafness can be temporary or permanent. It can be caused by:

  • damage to the inner ear through sudden or long-term exposure to loud noises
  • ear wax build-up
  • genetics

You may be experiencing hearing loss if you have buzzing in your ears or struggle to hear people talking. See your doctor for a check-up if you have difficulty hearing.

Balance disorders

Problems with the inner ear can also cause balance disorders, such as vertigo.

Ear infection

Middle ear infections often result from common colds. Your ears are connected to your nose and throat. Because of this, infections travel easily between these areas.

Middle ear infections can cause symptoms and signs such as:

Frequent ear infections in children can cause glue ear.

Infections of the outer ear can also happen.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

Getting your ears checked

If you have problems with your ears or hearing, see your doctor. They can examine you and do tests to check your ears and hearing.

Your doctor can also refer you to specialists, and help you access hearing aid devices if needed.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2022

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Hearing and ear health | Tasmanian Department of Health

Learn all about hearing loss. This includes signs, where to get tests in Tasmania and what to do if you think your child may have hearing loss.

Read more on Tasmanian Department of Health and Human Services website

Ear health and hearing | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Ear and hearing health is important to health and wellbeing. Untreated hearing loss and ear disease can have a big impact on the lives of children and adults alike. Find out what we’re doing to raise awareness of ear health and help prevent hearing loss in Australia.

Read more on Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website

About ear health | Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care

Healthy ears and hearing are important to health and quality of life. Poor ear health and hearing loss can have an impact on many aspects of our lives, including education, employment and wellbeing.

Read more on Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website

Ears - otosclerosis - Better Health Channel

Otosclerosis eventually affects both ears, but the condition doesn?t cause total deafness.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Understanding the Basics of Ear Wax

Learn about what ear wax is, why it forms, and how to effectively manage it for optimal ear health.

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Conductive Hearing Loss - Ear Science Institute Australia

Damage to the outer or middle ear caused by an illness, ear infections, or blockage are the most common causes of conductive hearing loss. For us to hear and…

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Ears - Better Health Channel

The brain uses the inner ear, the eyes and muscles to pinpoint the position of the body at all times.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Hearing Loss - Hearing Australia

Temporary hearing loss is when your child experiences changes in their hearing due to causes such as blockage in the ear canal, a build-up of earwax, fluid in the middle ear (like during an ear infection), or certain medications

Read more on Hearing Australia website

Significant others & hearing health - Ear Science Institute Australia

Family-centred care such as that offered by significant others is an integral part of offering best-practice care to you and your family.

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Hearing Implant Journey - Ear Science Institute Australia

Hearing aids help many people, but as hearing loss progresses, a cochlear implant may give you the clarity and volume you need to understand speech again

Read more on Ear Science Institute Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.