What Is the Middle Ear?

The ear is divided into three parts the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. Today let’s look at what parts make up the middle ear, its functions and common problems.

The middle ear starts at your eardrum, the tympanic membrane, and runs to the oval window. You cannot see your middle ear, but you may have felt it during an airplane landing. As a plane begins to land, different pressures build on both sides of your eardrum and can cause a sharp pain. The middle ear contains three tiny bones called the ossicles. In fact these three bones are the smallest in the body, but have an important job. Did you also know that the ossicles’ Latin names originate from their shape - the hammer or malleus, the anvil or incus and the stirrup or stapes. Along with the eardrum these three bones work together to change sound into mechanic vibration for further processing by the inner ear. Another important part of the middle ear is the Eustachian tube. The Eustachian tube runs from your middle ear to your throat and is critical for equalizing the pressure in your head. Finally, the middle ear ends at the oval window which is a membrane that covers the entrance to the cochlea in the inner ear.

Typically your middle ear is filled with air and as sound waves vibrate through the chamber air pressure can change. It is up to your Eustachian tube to do its job and keep pressure equalized. Sometimes whether because of a cold or allergies, the Eustachian tube can become swollen and trap moisture in the ear. This is how ear infections commonly occur. Another familiar injury in this part of the ear is the rupture or perforation of the eardrum. A tear in your ear drum can affect your hearing and also make your ears more susceptible to infections.

If you are experiencing reoccurring ear infections or suspect a problem with your eardrum, it is important to make an appointment with an audiologist. An audiologist will use several middle ear assessments to measure function and to isolate the problem for treatment.