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.

Your ear has three parts – outer, middle and inner.

Your ear has three parts – outer, middle and inner.
beginning of content

Ears

Despite what you may think, your ears don't hear anything. They gather the sounds around you, and send this information to your brain. It's your brain that does the hearing.

The ears are also important for balance and coordination.

Your ear has three parts - outer, middle and inner.

Ears and hearing

The outer ear is a flap of cartilage covered by skin. The outer ear funnels sound through the external (outer) ear canal to the middle ear.

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

The vibrations of the middle ear cause tiny bones in the middle ear to vibrate. These bones are called the malleus, the incus and the stapes.

The vibrations in the bones of the middle ear cause vibrations in the cochlea, which is spiral-shaped like a snail's shell.

The cochlea transforms sound into nerve impulses. These travel to your brain, which turns the messages in the nerves into what we call hearing.

Other parts of the inner ear send information to your brain about balance, coordination and head position.

Your ears are connected to your nose and throat, which is why infections travel easily between these areas.

Ears and balance

You get your sense of balance from many parts of your body - your eyes, your muscles and joints, and your inner ear.

In your inner ear, there is a part known as the vestibular system. This has canals 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.

Tips for healthy hearing

Loud noise can damage your inner ear and lead to irreversible hearing loss.

Damage can follow long-term exposure or a sudden loud noise.

To protect your hearing:

  • avoid loud sounds and noise
  • protect your ears from loud noises (for example, loud concerts or gunshots) with earplugs or earmuffs
  • give your ears intermittent rest from noise
  • set the volume on your devices low enough that you can hear people talking to you.

Sources:

WebMD (Brain and Nervous System Health Center-Picture of the ear), WebMD (Is your Earache Just a Cold or an Ear Infection), Australian Hearing (Protecting your hearing), MyVMC (Ear anatomy and physiology)

Last reviewed: August 2015

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Found 48 results

Eardrum perforation - perforated eardrum

Eardrum perforation can be caused by infection, a blow to the ear, injury from an object inserted in the ear, or exposure to a sudden loud noise.

Read more on myDr website

What is cefuroxime for?

Cefuroxime is an antibiotic used to treat bacterial sinusitis, pneumonia, and middle ear infections (otitis media). Find out more.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

What is amoxycillin for?

Amoxycillin is an antibiotic used to treat chronic bronchitis, bacterial sinusitis, pneumonia, and middle ear infections (otitis media). Find out more.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

What is amoxycillin with clavulanic acid for?

Amoxycillin with clavulanic acid is an antibiotic used to treat bacterial sinusitis, pneumonia, and middle ear infections (otitis media). Find out more.

Read more on NPS MedicineWise website

Microtia | The Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

This is the medical name for an ear which has developed differently. The ear may be very small, folded over, absent or a different shape. Sometimes the ear canal is very narrow or missing altogether. Microtia can occur in one or both ears.

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Middle ear infection and grommets - myDr.com.au

A grommet is a tiny tube inserted into the eardrum to allow air to enter the middle ear. Grommets can be used to treat glue ear and recurrent middle ear infections.

Read more on myDr website

Hearing Health

The NSW Aboriginal Ear Health Program Guidelines 2011-2015 (the Guidelines) were released in November 2011 to highlight the importance of maintaining good ear health and to address the higher prevalence of ear disease among Aboriginal children.

Read more on NSW Health website

Ears - Glue Ear and Grommets | The Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Ear health (EarInfoNet) - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet

This web resource is for people interested in addressing otitis media (middle ear disease) and hearing loss in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. You will also find a yarning place that provides electronic services to encourage information-sharing and collaboration.

Read more on Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet website

Grommet insertion (adult) | Better Health Channel

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information 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

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