Listening to music, waking up to birds chirping — you get to enjoy those sounds and more because of how human ears function. Our ears are complex organs that allow us to hear all the beautiful things life has to offer. Although you might take hearing for granted, there are many things you probably don’t know about the way it works.
Here are eight fun facts about human ears:
- Your inner ears are responsible for both hearing and balance, so a disease that affects one system can also have an impact on the other. For example, Meniere’s Disease is characterized by low frequency hearing loss and dizziness.
- The cochlea, is the innermost part of the ear, and is about the size of a pea! It looks similar to a snail shell, and if unraveled would be a mini-tube about 31.5mm long.
- The middle ear contains the smallest bones in your entire body, with the stapes being the tiniest. These three little bones help transmit sounds to the inner ear. All together, they can fit on a penny!
- Humans can hear frequencies as low as 20 Hertz (Hz) and up to 20,000Hz.
- While you’re sleeping, your ears continue to function. They will pick up sounds, but your brain blocks them out.
- Ears detect most sounds, but they have limits. When a sound exceeds a certain frequency level, it registers only as ringing or buzzing in our ears (not to be confused with tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing, or similar sound with no external cause).
- Your ears are self-cleaning. Pores in your ear canal produce cerumen (aka, earwax), and tiny hairs called cilia push it, along with the detritus it traps, out of the ear canal naturally. Although many find earwax “gross”, it protects the ear from dust, dirt, and friction, and unless you produce an excessive amount, doesn’t require cleaning out.
- The sensory neurons responsible for hearing are called hair cells. They are found inside your cochlea in the inner ear. If enough of these cells are damaged or destroyed by the aging process, excessive noise exposure, ototoxic substances, or lack of adequate blood supply, the result is hearing loss. Unfortunately, most hearing loss is irreversible because those hair cells do not grow back.
While human ears are fascinating, animal and insect hearing can be even more impressive. In the meantime, if you are concerned that your hearing isn’t what it used to be, contact a hearing care professional to have it assessed and treated.