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Ear Anatomy

Ear Anatomy


This lesson will give an overview of the anatomy of the human ear.

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Images: Human Ear; Creative Commons: Human Ear; Public Domain:; Public Domain: Organ Corti; Creative Commons: Vestibular System; Creative Commons: Semicircular Canals; Public Domain:

Terms to Know
Auditory Canal

Otherwise known as the ear canal and a part of the outer ear; the auditory canal guides sound waves toward the tympanic membrane.

Auditory Nerve

The nerve that projects auditory information detected by the hair cells in the cochlea to the primary auditory cortex of the temporal lobe.


The organ of hearing found within the inner ear; contains the sensory receptors for hearing (hair cells/stereocilia), organ of Corti, tectoral membrane, round window and the auditory nerve.


A unit of measurement which indicates the loudness of a sound.

Hair Cells

The actual receptors for hearing within the cochlea; the hair cells bend due to mechanical fluid vibrations within the cochlea. The bending of the hair cells causes them to depolarize and generate action potentials. The hair cells are also called stereocilia.

Inner Ear

The inner portion of the ear deeply embedded within the temporal bone; contains the organs of hearing and balance/equilibrium. Organs within the inner ear are the cochlea, the vestibular system, organ of Corti, tectorial membrane, hair cells (stereocilia), round window, otolith organs, auditory nerve, and the semicircular canals.

Middle Ear

The middle portion of the ear that is primarily designed to mechanically amplify the sound waves that enter the ear. Anatomic structures included are the tympanic membrane (ear drum), auditory ossicles (malleus, incus, stapes), and the eustachian tube.

Organ of Corti

A highly specialized organ found within the cochlea that contains the hair cells/stereocilia and their supporting structures (tectoral membrane, basilar membrane).

Otolith Organs

The saccule and utricle, each with an otolith (hard bits of calcium carbonate).

Outer Ear

Anatomically the outer part of the ear that traps and funnels compressed air inward toward the middle ear. Anatomic structures included are the auricle/pinna, auditory canal.

Round Window

A structure in the cochlea that acts to dampen the mechanical fluid vibrations within the cochlea to prevent damage to the hair cells.

Semicircular Canals

A system of canals in the vestibular system of the inner ear that provide feeback about body position.

Tectorial Membrane

One of two gel membranes located within the cochlea of the ear and is part of the organ of Corti. The two gel membranes contribute to the mechanical process of hearing.

Tympanic Membrane

A thin, highly innervated tissue at the end of the auditory canal that is attached to the auditory ossicles. When sound waves strike the tympanic membrane it vibrates, which causes the auditory ossicles to shift and press against the cochlea. Commonly referred to as the "ear drum."

Vestibular Apparatus

A system within the inner ear that provides us with feedback about our body position and balance; consists of the semicircular canals and the otolith organs.