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How Does the Ear Help to Maintain Balance and Equilibrium of the Body?

Updated on September 30, 2016
Human Ear
Human Ear | Source

The ear is one of the sensory organs that help us to hear. An interesting point to note is that the ear not only helps in hearing but also helps us to maintain the balance and equilibrium of our body. Without the ear, we would not be able to balance our body with respect to the gravitational pull of the earth.

To understand how the ear helps us to balance our body, we need to know about the structure of the ear.

Structure of the Ear

The ear is made up of three different parts -

  • outer ear
  • middle ear
  • inner ear

The inner ear is the part that helps us to balance our body. The inner ear is involved in both the functions of hearing and balancing.

Structure of the Inner Ear
Structure of the Inner Ear | Source

Structure of the Inner Ear

The inner ear is enclosed within the temporal bone of the skull.

The inner ear is made up of two small parts -

  • cochlea
  • semicircular canals

The cochlea is a coiled structure that resembles the shell of the snail.

The cochlea and the semicircular canals are connected by a structure called the vestibule.

The vestibule has two smaller structures called the saccule and the utricle.

How does the inner ear help to maintain balance and equilibrium?

Two structures of the inner ear help to maintain balance and equilibrium -

  • the three semicircular canals that are interconnected and positioned at right angles to each other just like a gyroscope.
  • the vestibule (has the saccule and utricle) that connects the semicircular canals to the cochlea

The semicircular canals and the vestibule of the inner ear together help to maintain the balance and equilibrium of the body.

How do the semicircular canals detect signals?

The semicircular canals are filled with a fluid called the endolymph. Each one of the semicircular canals has an enlarged cuplike structure called the cupula.The cupula has thin hair cells.

Whenever the head moves, the fluid in the canals move. When the fluid in the canals moves, the hair cells move in the direction of the fluid and generate signals that detect the changes in the position of the body.

How does the vestibule detect signals?

The utricle and the saccule inside the vestibule are lined by hair cells that help to detect linear acceleration or movement of the body in a straight line.

The utricle and saccule are covered by a jelly-like layer that has tiny calcium crystals. When the head tilts or changes in position with respect to gravity, the calcium crystals are displaced, and this displacement makes the hair cells bend and detect signals regarding the changes in the position of the body.

The signals that are detected by the hair cells of both the semicircular canals and the vestibule are converted into nerve impulses and sent to the brain through the vestibular nerve. The brain also receives signals from the visual and skeletal system of the body.

The brain coordinates all three signals from the inner ear, visual system and skeletal system to maintain balance and equilibrium of the body.

How does the inner ear help in hearing?

The cochlea of the inner ear helps in hearing. The cochlea is lined by tiny hair cells and is filled with fluid.

When the middle ear transfers vibrations to the cochlea, the fluid in the cochlea is displaced. This displacement of the fluid makes the hair cells move.

Signals from these cells are converted into nerve impulses and sent to the brain through the auditory nerve thereby helping in the process of hearing.

Diseases Caused by Abnormalities of the Inner Ear

Vertigo

Vertigo is characterized by a sense of dizziness and spinning when the person is perfectly still. Nausea and vomiting sometimes accompany it.

Vertigo can be a result of the following conditions -

  • Labyrinthitis - a condition caused by infection or inflammation of the inner ear causing dizziness and loss of balance
  • Vestibular Neuronitis - a condition caused by the inflammation of the vestibular nerve

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is characterized by a continuous ringing or buzzing noise in the ear when there are no ringing or buzzing sounds around. This condition is mainly caused due to damage to the hair cells in the cochlea region of the inner ear. Intake of certain medications can also cause Tinnitus.

Meniere's Disease -

Meniere's Disease is characterized by the ringing of ears, ear fullness, progressive hearing loss and poor equilibrium. This disease is caused when the semicircular canals do not function properly.

Perilymph Fistula

Perilymph Fistula is a condition caused when the fluid in the inner ear leaks into the middle ear. This can happen when there is a head injury or extreme physical exertion.

To Summarize

The inner ear is one of the organs that help to maintain the balance and equilibrium of the body. The semicircular canals and the vestibule are the two parts of the inner ear that are directly involved in helping the body to maintain balance and equilibrium.


References

http://nationaldizzyandbalancecenter.com/resources/balance-system/

http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=21685

http://www.hearinglink.org/how-the-ear-works

http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/harvard_womens_health_watch/2011/september/tinnitus-ringing-in-the-ears-and-what-to-do-about-it

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/160900.php


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    • mindyjgirl profile image

      Mindy 2 years ago from Cottage Grove, Oregon

      Great Job! So many times I have wanted to know more about the inner ear. most of the time you just see articles about ear problems and not much of something like this, Thank you. Voted too :)

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      Thank you mindyjgirl for your visit and comments. Thank you for the vote up too.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Informative and interesting. I knew of someone who had such issues. Balancing was his problem and something to do with the ear. You enlightened me on this these issues.

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      DDE thank you and am glad you came to know more through my hub.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very useful, educative and informative article about how balance is maintained through our ear!

      I learnt a lot and you presented a well researched hub. Voted up and thanks!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      What great information. Thank you for presenting it in a way even the layman can understand. Well done!

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      ChitrangadaSharan thank you for reading and the vote up, much appreciated.

      billybuc thank you for your appreciation, you made my day!

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 2 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Very well presented and easy to grasp. I am linking this to my hub "How To Remove Insect From Ear -First Aid." Say, yes please. :)

      Thank you.

      P.S. Voted up, useful plus sharing.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 2 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Your presentation is very good. Vertigo is not fun to have, I had it for a short time and was given antivert which helped. Thank you again...

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      CrisSP thank you, please do link my hub. Thanks for the vote ups and share. Much appreciated.

      always exploring thank you, vertigo is scary suddenly the whole world starts spinning.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is useful information, Vellur. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      AliciaC thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    • itsmesudiksha profile image

      Sudiksha 2 years ago from Nepal

      very knowledgeable thank u for sharing with us.

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 2 years ago from New York

      I too appreciate the information here. I suffer from Meniere's Disease (wrote a hub about it) and occasional tinnitus. Of course I knew it was an "inner ear thing" but reading your hub has given me a little more of an understanding.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      itmesudiksha thank you for reading and leaving a comment.

      tillsontitan thank you for reading and the many vote ups. Will read your hub about Meniere's Disease.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hi, very interesting stuff, my mum used to have trouble with balance because of her ear, so this was fascinating!

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      Nell Rose thank you, hope your mum is okay now.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 2 years ago

      I had ear aches as a child and know well the pain and imbalance from an inner ear infection. Your article is well written and very informative on how it all works for better balance. It is very useful to me.

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      teaches12345 thank you, glad you found my hub useful. Ear aches can be very painful specially from an ear infection.

    • RachaelOhalloran profile image

      Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

      I was left deaf after an attacker stabbed me when I was in my 30's and I'm 67 now. My balance gets screwy with abrupt weather changes due to fluid build up in my ear canals. I take Antivert for the dizziness and use a ear pump to drain out the fluid. Other than that, balance is good. This is a very informative article and you did it justice.

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 years ago from Dubai

      RachaelOhalloran oh my God that must have been terrible. Am glad that your balance is good and take care. Wishing you a very Happy New Year.

    • gladys krishna 2 months ago

      this infromation is verygood it had helped me in my studies

    • GLADYS KRISHNA 2 months ago

      This infromation is very good. Because of this I got first prize in semenar presentation. I had gained so many knowledge through this. Thank you .

    • Vellur profile image
      Author

      Nithya Venkat 2 months ago from Dubai

      GLADYS KRISHNA, am so happy that this article helped you in your studies. Thank you for writing in and letting me know, much appreciated.

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