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What is the Inner Ear?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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The inner ear is liquid filled a portion of the human hearing system that provides the framework for the transmission of the stimulation of nerve impulses from the outer ear to the brain. This configuration helps to establish the mechanism for the components of the inner ear to receive the vibrations that are passed from the outer ear to the middle ear and finally to the inner region, where the nerve endings process and transmit the data to the brain.

Inner ears are composed of two main parts. The cochlea is the portion concerned mainly with the sense of hearing. Cochleae have an appearance that is somewhat like that of a small snail, and are coated with a layer of small hair cells that sense the sounds received and transmit the signals to the auditory nerve system that in turn forward the data on to the brain.

The second major component of the inner ear is known as the labyrinth. Unlike the cochlea, the labyrinth is more concerned with helping to maintain a proper sense of balance. In appearance, the labyrinth is somewhat like that of semicircular canals that help to acclimate the balance as outside conditions change.

Located in the temporal bone, the inner ear controls how the brain reacts to various types of stimuli. This includes the assimilation of sound waves and producing the end effect that we think of as hearing, as well as adjusting the balancing of the body as the individual moves about, so that a sense of equilibrium is maintained. When the inner ear is damaged or impaired in some manner, a loss of hearing an inability to stand or walk properly is common.

Infections can temporarily impact the function of the inner ear. When the distress is the result of some type of bacterial invasion, medication will often help to clear up the infection and remove the source of the discomfort. However, trauma to the inner ear, such as in some type of accident, can lead to permanent damage. In the case of the cochlea, this may mean the insertion of an implant that will help to partially restore hearing ability.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum , Writer
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.

Discussion Comments

By naturesgurl3 — On Sep 25, 2010

How can you tell the difference between inner ear-related dizziness and just plain clumsiness? I have always had pretty bad balance, but I thought it was just a sort of unfortunate natural thing. Do you think this could be caused by a problem with my inner ear? I have always been prone to ear infections and sinus infections, but I wasn't sure if this could be a sign of something wrong with my inner ear, especially when combined with poor balance.

Any ideas?

By Charlie89 — On Sep 25, 2010

I knew that the inner ear and balance issues were connected, but I had no idea that it could be that serious.

That's pretty cool that they can actually implant something in your ear to help though. I bet that surgery is really complicated. Thinking about it, I wonder how dangerous that is -- if the surgeons make a mistake in the implant, wouldn't the person's hearing be damaged even further?

Of course, I guess if you are that desperate to have your balance and hearing, then it's worth the risk, but still, that sounds kind of dangerous.

By TunaLine — On Sep 25, 2010

My son was terribly prone to inner ear infections when he was little, so I used to be totally up on my inner ear infection symptoms.

In case you're interested, an inner ear infection is also called labyrinthitis. It is slightly different from a regular ear infection, and is usually caused by a virus, though sometimes bacteria can play a part.

The symptoms of inner ear infection are imbalance, inner ear pressure, and dizziness; and if it is particularly serious, then the person can experience hearing loss and tinnitus.

Luckily my son never got that serious, but he did have quite a lot of inner ear pain. Before we knew it was an inner ear disorder, we tried all kinds of middle ear infection treatments, but of course they didn't work.

The only thing that ended up working for my son was prednisone, but I know that some people have to undergo really extensive inner ear infection treatments, such as balance training, and even anti-nausea medications to combat the problems that come with imbalance.

I'm just thankful we never had to go that far -- my son's problems cleared up as he got older, and now he's just as good as new.

Malcolm Tatum

Malcolm Tatum


Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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