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2 THE ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY OF THE EAR AND HEARING Peter W.Alberti Professor em. of Otolaryngology Visiting Professor University of Singapore University of Toronto Department of Otolaryngology Toronto 5 Lower Kent Ridge Rd CANADA SINGAPORE 119074 2.1. INTRODUCTION Hearing is one of the major senses and like vision is important for distant warning and communication. It can be used to alert, to communicate pleasure and fear. It is a conscious appreciation of vibration perceived as sound. In order to do this, the appropriate signal must reach the higher parts of the brain. The function of the ear is to convert physical vibration into an encoded nervous impulse. It can be thought of as a biological microphone. Like a microphone the ear is stimulated by vibration: in the microphone the vibration is transduced into an electrical signal, in the ear into a nervous impulse which in turn is then processed by the central auditory pathways of the brain. The mechanism to achieve this is complex. This chapter will deal mainly with the ear, first its structure and then its function, for it is the ear that is mainly at risk from hazardous sounds. The ears are paired organs, one on each side of the head with the sense organ itself, which is technically known as the cochlea, deeply buried within the temporal bones. Part of the ear is concerned with conducting sound to the cochlea, the cochlea is concerned with transducing vibration. The transduction is performed by delicate hair cells which, when stimulated, initiate a nervous impulse. Because they are living, they are bathed in body fluid which provides them with energy, nutrients and oxygen. Most sound is transmitted by a vibration of air. Vibration is poorly transmitted at the interface between two media which differ greatly in characteristic impedance (product of density of the medium and speed of sound within it, ' c ), as for example air and water. The ear has evolved a complex mechanism to overcome this impedance mis-match, known as the sound conducting mechanism. The sound conducting mechanism is divided into two parts, an outer and the middle ear, an outer part which catches sound and the middle ear which is an impedance matching device. Let us look at these parts in detail (see Figure 2.1). 2.2. SOUND CONDUCTING MECHANISMS 2.2.1. The Outer Ear The outer ear transmits sound to the tympanic membrane. The pinna, that part which protrudes from the side of the skull, made of cartilage covered by skin, collects sound and channels it into
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54 Anatomy and physiology of the ear and hearing Figure 2.1. The pinna and external auditory canal form the outer ear, which is separated from the middle ear by the tympanic membrane. The middle ear houses three ossicles, the malleus, incus and stapes and is connected to the back of the nose by the Eustachian tube. Together they form the sound conducting mechanism.
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This note was uploaded on 01/16/2012 for the course BI 200 taught by Professor Potter during the Fall '11 term at Montgomery College.

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