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How the ear works

iStock_000024467012XSmallThe ear is a complex, specialized organ responsible for hearing. The ear also plays an important role in balance. It is comprised of three sections: the outer ear, which includes the auricle and ear canal; the middle ear, which includes the eardrum and the three smallest bones in the human body (malleus, incus, and stapes); and the inner ear, which includes the cochlea and nerve pathways to the brain. The auricle, which is composed of the visible cartilage and skin on the outside of your ear, acts like a satellite dish, collecting sound waves that then travel through the ear canal and cause vibrations in the eardrum. The vibrations are then transmitted and amplified by the middle ear bones, or ossicles. This mechanical energy is then transmitted to the inner ear, where they are relayed to a snail-shaped organ called the cochlea. Inside the cochlea, thousands of tiny hairs help translate these vibrations into electrical signals. From here, a nerve known as the eighth nerve carries these signals to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound.