The Ear: Part I of IV - The Outer Ear

Welcome to the first of a four part series on the different parts and purposes of the ear. Lets start by talking about the outer ear!

The outer ear consists of two parts, the auricle or pinna (the part that you see when you’re looking at the ear) and the external auditory canal.

Your outer ear isn’t just an earring holder. It also has several functions that contribute to our hearing and well-being.

  1. Protection - Your ear produces a bitter-tasting waxy substance in order to keep bugs at bay. It also has hair in order to prevent dirt and pollen from reaching your ear drum.
  2. Amplification - Your ear has a resonant frequency (pitch), meaning that it functions at its best between 1000 and 4000 Hz. Because of this, for sounds that fall within this range, there is approximately a 15-20 dB increase in volume. Luckily, this is the frequency range that most speech sounds are located.
  3. Localization of sound - The patterns of the folds of your auricle create inaudible echoes when sounds hit it. These echoes blend with the original sound, helping the ear decipher where a sound is coming from.

 

What can go wrong with your outer ear?

  1. Impacted ear wax – Impaction of ear wax has two different causes: over production of ear wax and ear wax being pushed into the ear by the use of Q-tips. Either of these issues results in sound not being able to reach the ear drum properly, hindering your ability to hear appropriately.
  2. Foreign bodies – These can include bugs, cotton left over from a Q-tip and any other small object a child could put in their ear (i.e., beads, peas, toy pieces, rocks, etc.)
  3. External Otits (also known as Swimmer’s Ear) – Swimmer’s Ear is an ear infection of the outer ear that is often caused by leftover water in the ear canal, allowing bacteria and fungus to grow. This type of ear infection is common in people who go swimming often or who have very bendy ear canals.
  4. Trauma – This can include burning your ear on a curling iron, getting cauliflower ear from boxing, or a new ear piercing getting infected, just to name a few.

 

Fun Facts about the Outer Ear:

  • Your ear canal is about an inch long.
  • Your auricle or pinna never stops growing.
  • Your ears are naturally self-cleaning. The hair in your ears helps the ear wax that you produce work its way out of your ear naturally.

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