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How the Inner Ear Supports Hearing and Your Sense of Balance

How the Inner Ear Supports Hearing and Your Sense of Balance
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  • 0:03 Ears
  • 1:11 Cochlea & Hearing
  • 2:32 Semicircular Canals & Balance
  • 3:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

You usually think of your ears for hearing, but did you know they also help you maintain your balance? In this lesson, you will learn about the structures of the inner ear and how they help support hearing and your sense of balance.

Ears

When your mom tells you, 'It's time to clean your room,' I'm sure you know that you use your ears to hear her. But did you know that her words have to be sent to your brain for interpretation in order for you to understand them? If your ears weren't working with your brain all you would hear would be 'blah blah blah blah blah blah.'

You see, your outer ear, which is the part you can touch, collects sound waves from the world around you, but your brain can't read sound waves, so your ear must change them into a language your brain understands, namely nerve impulses. To do this, your middle ear turns the sound waves into vibrations, which are then passed on to your inner ear. It is your inner ear that uses the vibrations to create nerve impulses that travel to your brain. Creating nerve impulses from the sounds that enter your ear is not the only thing your inner ear does, it also helps you keep your balance. In this lesson, we will take a closer look at how your inner ear helps support hearing and balance.

Cochlea & Hearing

To best understand the inner ear, let's take one step back and look at the three tiny bones of your middle ear, which are collectively referred to as the ossicles. They are the smallest bones of your body, with the smallest one of all being the stapes, or stirrup. It gets its name because it looks like the stirrup, or footrest, of a horse's saddle. This bone connects to the oval window, which is a membrane that separates the middle ear from the inner ear.

When the stapes vibrates, it makes the oval window move in and out. This movement pushes on fluid found in the cochlea of the inner ear. The cochlea is a fluid-filled tube that converts vibrations into nerve impulses. If you look at a picture of the cochlea it looks like a snail; in fact, cochlea means 'snail' in Latin, which is how it got its name. If we took a look inside the cochlea we would see that it's lined with tiny hairs. As the fluid in the cochlea gets pushed in and out, it moves the hairs, creating nerve impulses that your brain can read and understand. How exactly does your brain know that your mom said 'clean your room' and not 'blah, blah, blah'? Well, that's still something of a scientific mystery.

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