The Middle Ear: Structures & Functions

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  • 0:02 Ears
  • 1:13 Eardrum
  • 1:59 Ossicles
  • 3:28 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.

Your middle ear turns sound waves from the world around you into vibrations, which can be used to make nerve signals for your brain. This is a big job for the tiniest bones of your body. Learn about the little bones, or ossicles, of the middle ear.


We all know that if we didn't have ears, we wouldn't be able to hear. But, in order for your brain to understand what you are hearing, your ears have to capture sound waves, turn them into vibrations and then create nerve signals that travel to your brain for interpretation. When you think about how many sounds you hear during the day, you can appreciate how much work your ears have to do. The crazy thing is that this big job of hearing is handled, in part, by three of the tiniest bones in your body. In this lesson, you will learn about those tiny bones, which are found in your middle ear and see how they do their job.

Before we do that, it is good to get a general overview of the entire ear. Your ear is made up of three parts: The outer ear is the part you see. It collects sound waves and directs them toward the middle ear, which is the part of your ear we will focus on in this lesson. The middle ear turns sound waves into vibrations. These vibrations are sent to your inner ear, which then uses the vibrations to create nerve signals that travel to your brain.


When sound waves enter your ear they run into your eardrum, which is also called the tympanic membrane; this is a thin membrane that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. You might want to think of the sound waves as the drumsticks that bang on the eardrum, causing it to vibrate.

Did you ever feel your ears 'pop' when you drove up a mountain or flew in an airplane? That happens because the change in elevation changes the air pressure on your eardrum. Your ears adjust to this change thanks to the Eustachian tube, which connects the middle ear to your nose and throat. This tube is like a pressure release valve; when it opens, you feel a 'pop' as pressure is released and equalized on both sides of your eardrum.


The eardrum marks the beginning of the middle ear. This part of your ear is about the size of a pea, and, believe it or not, there are three bones inside. Together, the three bones of the middle ear are referred to as the ossicles. When your eardrum vibrates, that motion is transferred from one bone to the next, just like doing the wave at a sporting event.

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