What is the Malleus?

Meshell Powell

The malleus is one of the small bones located in the middle ear. This bone strongly resembles a small hammer, and as such, is commonly referred to as the hammer of the ear. The malleus is connected to the incus, the bone in the ear that is sometimes called the anvil. The eardrum is also attached to the malleus. The primary function of this small bone is to send sound vibrations to the incus from the eardrum.

Fractures resulting from an automobile accident may cause damage to the malleus.
Fractures resulting from an automobile accident may cause damage to the malleus.

Only present in mammals, the malleus is believed to have evolved from a structure known as an articular bone. This bone is still present in tetrapods such as birds, reptiles, and amphibians. The articular bone is basically a lower jawbone that has become redundant and unnecessary in the evolution of mammals.

Surgery may be required to treat injuries to the malleus.
Surgery may be required to treat injuries to the malleus.

In the development of the mammalian embryo, the malleus forms from what is called the first pharyngeal arch. This structure becomes the pharynx in mammals and gills in fish. This arch also forms the upper and lower jawbones in mammals, clinically referred to as the mandible and the maxilla.

Injury to this bone is not particularly common, primarily due to its location in the middle ear. When injury does occur, it is usually the result of a traumatic event. Fractures resulting from a traumatic event such as an automobile accident appear to be the most prevalent cause of injury, although any type of trauma involving the middle ear has the potential to have a negative effect on the malleus.

Middle ear injuries can also occur when a foreign object is inserted into the ear. This can cause small tears, or perforations, that may lead to structural or functional damage. Blast injuries are also known to cause damage to the middle ear. Hearing loss is a major concern when there has been any kind of trauma to this area of the body. The sensitive nature of the small parts of the middle ear are particularly susceptible to damage.

Surgical intervention is the only real way to correct damage done by a traumatic injury involving the middle ear. The type of surgery involved is dependent upon the precise injury and whether or not the ability to hear properly has been compromised. Structural damage is easier to correct than functional damage. It is not always possible to restore hearing once it has been affected, although this depends largely on the type of damage causing the hearing loss.

Shaped like a hammer, the malleus is one of the small bones of the middle ear.
Shaped like a hammer, the malleus is one of the small bones of the middle ear.

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Discussion Comments


@jmc88 - Well to be honest most of the accidents occur in children that simply do not know any better and they do not always involve Q tips.

I used to have a neighbor that said when he was a kid his brother stuck a screw driver in his ear and punctured his ear drum. This was an unfortunate accident that happened because the two kids were young and did not know any better.

Accidents like this happen all the time and they usually occur not out of people's ignorance but simply do to children not knowing that they should not do it or what the consequences of their actions may be.

Only in rare instances is someone not using common sense and hurts their ear doing something that they really should not be doing.


@matthewc23 - I have to completely agree. There is no way for people to avoid not putting Q tips in their ears as it is something that is just going to happen. The key is for people not to be dumb and use common sense when using one.

The malleus can be damaged easily, just like the other bones of the ear, and when this is done severe damage to ones hearing can occur and it could even leave the person permanently deaf.

I find it a bit ridiculous that people say you should not put anything in your ear as it is something that can be done if one uses common sense. I can stick half a Q Tip in my ear without problems and I wonder how people damage their ears ins such a way.


@Emilski - Q tip companies may say that Q tips should not be put into the ear, but one cannot say for a second that they do not market it to appear that way.

I have always thought that companies that make Q tips simply say they should not be put into the ear to avoid law suits from people that are negligent and stupidly ram the Q tip into their ear too far.

Truth is this is what Q tips are actually being used for and the companies are smart enough to avoid liabilities by saying they should not be used for this purpose, knowing that people will do it anyway.

That being said, on occasion one has to put something in their ear to either sick water out or to remove wax that has built up. It is a matter of care and a child probably should not do it on their own, as they will not know the severity of the consequences for ramming a Q tip in their ear too far.


I have heard stories about people permanently damaging their Malleus simply due to them sticking something in their ear too far.

Kids are taught never to stick anything in their ears and this is because they can easily puncture their ear drum or severely damage their hearing. Adults are the same way as they are not supposed to stick anything in their ear.

The bones in the ear can easily be broken or damaged and can really affect a person's life so that is why nothing should ever be put in and this includes Q tips. Q tips are not designed to be put in the ear, even though they appear so.

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