Our ears are amazing – we use them to communicate with one another, to hear warnings and to listen to beautiful sounds like music or birdsong. They even help us with our balance.
Ears are made up of three different sections. The first is the outer ear; which includes the part on the outside as well as the ear canal. Ears are like cups collecting sound waves. The sound waves go down the ear canal to the second part of the ear – the inner ear, where the sound waves become vibrations. The sound waves vibrate the ear drum which in turn vibrates the ossicles. The ossicles are three tiny bones: the malleus (shaped like a hammer), the incus (shaped like an anvil) and lastly, the tiniest of all the bones in the body, the stapes (which is shaped like a stirrup).
The third part is the inner ear, which has a coiled tube, shaped like a shell known as the cochlea. Minute hairs in the cochlea convert the vibrations to nerve signals which our brains can understand. The inner ear also has the semi-circular canals, which alert the brain when we move our heads and help us keep our balance.
You don’t need to fuss too much to keep your ears clean; a gentle wipe with a facecloth in the shower should be enough. Never stick a cotton bud (or anything else) in your ear, as you could damage your eardrum or cause an infection, both of which could affect your hearing. You probably think that ear wax is icky, but it does the very important job of keeping dirt and germs from getting near the delicate parts of your ear. The wax normally finds its own way out, but if you do have any problems, the doctor can help.
It’s very important to protect your ears from loud noise. Loud noises can damage your hearing; sometimes temporarily, but also permanently, especially if you are exposed for a long time. That is why people who work in noisy places wear ear protection; for example, airport ground crew wearing earmuffs.
Another risk is loud music. If you are near loud music you should always wear ear plugs to protect your ears. Take care too if you use earphones, the top volume could eventually lead to hearing loss. Many musicians end up with hearing loss or tinnitus. Tinnitus is a condition when persons hear annoying ringing sounds in their ears all the time. An example of a musician who suffers from tinnitus is rapper Will.i.am from Black Eyed Peas.
Noises are measured in decibels (dB). Any noise over 85 dBs could be harmful. A normal conversation is about 60 dBs, a firecracker pop is over 140 dBs, a motorbike is over 100 dBs and an MP3 player at maximum volume is around 105dBs. You will know if a sound is too loud if you cannot hear others when they talk to you. The safest thing to do is to move away from the loud sound.