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How does the normal ear work?

Eric E. Smouha, MD
Ear, Nose & Throat (Otolaryngology)

Sound waves enter the ear canal and vibrate the ear drum (tympanic membrane). Those vibrations are carried through the three small bones of the middle ear - the hammer (malleus), the anvil (incus), and the stirrup (stapes). The stirrup passes the vibrations to the inner ear fluids within the cochlea. Fluid waves travel through two-and-a-half turns of the cochlea, bending the cochlear hair cells as it passes.

The cochlea has an array of hair cells, and each hair cell is tuned to a certain frequency, like the keys on a piano. The hair cells are the spark plugs of the inner ear, and when stimulated by incoming sound, they initiate a signal within their corresponding nerve ending that is then sent to the brain where the sound is recognized.

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