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The Ear: Middle Structures and Hearing Functions

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  • 0:58 External and Middle Ear
  • 1:30 Ossicles
  • 1:54 Malleus, Incus, and Stapes
  • 2:55 Oval Window
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
Find out about the malleus, incus, and stapes. You'll learn about the smallest bones in your body and find out what the ossicles are for. Finally, you'll find out how the oval window plays an important role in the transmission of sound.

The Middle Ear

There's a cool little thing many people have on their office desk or at home; it's called Newton's cradle. No, it's not an antique cradle that tiny Sir Isaac Newton slept in; it's a toy. With this toy, you take one little metal ball at one end, lift it up, and let it go. It hits the next metal ball and transmits its energy to a ball all the way at the other end, making it fly up. And this cycle continues on and on until the energy dissipates.

Newton's cradle demonstrates transmission of information, such as energy, from one structure, such as a ball, to another. Likewise, your middle ear has a very similar way of transmitting the information stored in sound waves.

External and Middle Ear

When you listen to your favorite music, information is carried via sound waves to your ear, which captures this sound and transmits it via the ear canal to a structure known as your eardrum. Your ear, technically called the pinna, and your ear canal, technically called the external auditory meatus, are part of the external ear.

The tympanic membrane, or ear drum, separates the external ear from the middle ear
Tympanic Membrane

The Ossicles

The middle ear contains some very important structures that are collectively called the ossicles. These are three tiny bones that are located in the middle ear that serve to transmit sound waves captured by the eardrum to the inner ear. As an interesting side note, these three bones are the smallest bones in your entire body.

Malleus, Incus, and Stapes

If you've ever watched an episode of 'The Three Stooges,' you may have seen a moment or two when the three stooges lined up in one row and began to hit one another. The first one hit the one standing in the middle. As soon as the one standing in the middle was hit by the first, he reflexively hit the third one standing at the other end. This is exactly how the three ossicles of the middle ear, called the malleus, incus, and stapes , work as well.

The three ossicles of the middle ear are called the malleus, incus and stapes
Three Ossicles

The malleus stands at one end of the row, attached to the tympanic membrane. The incus is in the middle, and the stapes is all the way at the other end of the middle ear. As soon as the tympanic membrane vibrates, the malleus begins to vibrate, and this vibration begins to move the incus. The incus, in turn, begins to vibrate the stapes. All of this movement and vibration in the middle ear helps to amplify the sound waves reaching your ears.

The Oval Window

You should be able to tell that the ossicles also work like Newton's cradle, mentioned in the beginning of this lesson. The ossicles, like the metal balls of Newton's cradle, serve to transmit energy, in our case carried by sound waves hitting the eardrum, through the middle ear and to a structure called the oval window.

The oval window is a membrane covered opening that separate the middle ear from the inner ear and is sometimes known as fenestra ovalis.

The oval window, or fenestra ovalis, separates the middle ear from the inner ear
Oval Window

This oval window comes into contact with the innermost ossicle of the middle ear, known as the stapes. As the sound waves hit the eardrum, the ossicles begin to vibrate, and the stapes begins to push the oval window in and out. This vibration of the oval window helps in the transmission of sound information from the middle ear to the inner ear.

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