Housing the auditory system, the ear is just one of the sensory organs making up the body. It is a very complex system that carries out essential functions in the body. Under normal circumstances it is paired and carries out two main functions: hearing and balance. The human ear has three parts which all aid hearing: the external, middle and the inner ear. A common characteristic of all vertebrates, the inner ear is described as the deepest part of the ear. It houses a system of numerous intertwined tubes filled with fluid (called perilymph) that run through the brain’s temporal bone; also referred to as the bony labyrinth. Within the bony labyrinth is the membranous labyrinth which is made up of cellular tubes filled with fluid (endolymph). These tubes are delicate. It is within the bony labyrinth that the hearing cells are found.
The bony labyrinth is divided into three parts, the cochlea which aids hearing and the vestibule which is responsible for balance. The vestibular system (vestibule) is aided by the third part of the inner ear; the semicircular canals (three in all). The cochlea is best described as “snail shaped” and is located at the front; it is connected to the vestibule by the semicircular canals (the rear section of the inner ear). The saccule and utricle are the organs within the vestibule that help to coordinate motion and balance.
To achieve hearing, pressure waves are converted into mechanical vibrations in the cochlea then the membranes and fluids send these signals on as waves which become nerve impulses that are carried to the brain. The vestibule cooperates with the visual system by keeping objects perceived by the eye in focus during head movements. The combined effort of the auditory and visual systems is processed by the brain to maintain balance.
Due to the intricacy and importance of this delicate system, proper care should always be taken to avoid damaging the inner ear since this could result in infections, hearing impairment or total hearing loss and issues with balance and/or motion.
Cleaning the Inner Ear
Avoid inserting objects, including cotton buds or swabs into the ear. This habit is not only potentially dangerous but also unnecessary since the ear canal actually cleans itself. Constant itching, infections or excessive wax build up can result because the practice can break the delicate skin which lines the ear. Issues with wax build up can be treated with 1 to 2 drops of olive oil although seeking medical advice before putting anything into the ear is advisable. All symptoms exhibited by the ear for example itching, any kind of secretion (runny ears), excess wax, fever or pain should to be brought to a nurse or doctor’s attention especially if persistent.
Syringing the ear can be done in the event that wax removal or cleaning is required. This procedure must only be carried out by a trained professional. Infections are often treated with antibiotics; the most common infections are cause by exposure to fluid or build up of infected fluids in the ear.