Ears allow us to hear, but what else? We’ve put together ten more facts about your ears that you might not have known…
1. Without your ears, you would lose your balance
Inside your inner ear is a fascinating maze-like structure known as the vestibular system. Here you’ll find three canals filled with fluid and small hair cells that detect the rotational movement of your head, be it up and down, side to side, or tilting. Each semi-circular canal is located at a different angle so your brain can better judge where your head is moving. They are each responsible for a specific direction of head movement.
Information coming from the vestibular system is processed in the brain and then sent to other organs that need this information, such as the eyes and muscles. This allows us to remain balanced and know what position our body is in. In some situations (i.e. on a boat) different sensory organs, such as the eyes, send contradictory messages to the brain. This is what can then cause us to feel unwell, dizzy, or nauseous.1
2. Your ears keep “growing” with age
You may have heard the rumour that our ears and nose are the only parts of our body that continue growing throughout our lives. They do indeed get bigger, but it’s not because they’re literally growing. It’s most likely a combination of natural ageing and the effects of gravity.2
As we age, our ears appear to be getting bigger but it’s because the cartilage in our ears slowly breaks down, and gravity makes them elongate over time.
3. Ears are self-cleaning
Ear wax gets a bad rap.
But the truth is, it’s a completely natural (and essential) part of our ears.
Normal ear wax production is a sign that your ears are doing a great job at cleaning themselves. This self-cleaning ability helps keep the ears moisturised and protected.
4. Ears never sleep
Our ears still hear 100% of the sounds around us when we are asleep, even if we’re not aware of it. It’s our brain that’s responsible for processing all the sounds around us and making sense of them.
The sleeping brain continues generating neural responses to surrounding events, but the sleeper is merely in “standby” mode as the brain continues to monitor for relevant signals.3
5. Your ears have very important hairs (that don’t grow back)
The ear has tiny nerve fibres – or hair cells – that help us maintain balance, but they’re also there to help us hear. These delicate hair cells are very sensitive and can be easily damaged to the point where they break. Once they break, they don’t grow back.
Some of the main reasons for this type of hair cell loss include sound exposure, natural ageing, and ear infections. To avoid your risk of hearing loss, it’s important to take care of your ears by avoiding loud noises when possible or by protecting your ears with ear plugs or ear defenders when exposed to excessive noise.4
6. Sound exposure is the second leading cause of hearing loss
There are many things that can cause hearing loss, but sound exposure is one of the biggest culprits.
This type of hearing loss falls under the sensorineural hearing loss category, and though there can be other causes such as ageing, ear infections, and certain medications, it’s often caused by exposure to high levels of noise. It can be the result of one loud impulse sound, or from continual exposure to loud sounds over time.
It can happen to anyone, at any age.
7. Your ears help regulate pressure changes
Have you ever wondered what makes your ears “pop” on an aeroplane?
Our middle ear has a certain amount of pressure around it, and a small tube (the Eustachian tube) that connects our ear to the back of our throat helps keep air pressure equal on both sides of the eardrum. This makes sure that the pressure does not build up when the surrounding air pressure changes (like on an aeroplane or somewhere else at a high altitude).5
The Eustachian tubes then open to relieve some of the pressure when we swallow, which equalises the pressure inside and outside our ear. That’s what makes them “pop.”
8. The ears are connected to the nose and throat
The ears, nose, and throat are all intricately connected, that’s why there’s a type of doctor who looks at these parts of the body as one unit.
A problem in one part can cause a problem in the others. So, if there’s an infection in the throat, for example, it can travel to the ear. This is because the Eustachian tube is the pathway that runs through each part and connects them all together.
9. Hearing loss may cause cognitive decline
A new report published by the Lancet Commission shows that hearing loss is a risk factor for dementia.6 In fact, moderate hearing impairment can increase one’s dementia risk by up to three times.
Even mild levels of hearing loss can increase the long-term risk of cognitive decline and dementia in people who are cognitively intact but slightly hearing impaired. This could be because hearing loss leads to lowered mental stimulation, isolation, and depression – all of which contribute to accelerated cognitive decline.
10. We have two ears for a reason
Having two ears helps us figure out which direction sounds are coming from.7 If you have hearing loss in one ear, you can probably notice that it’s hard to decipher where a particular sound is located. Therefore, it’s important to use two hearing aids instead of one when hearing loss is present in both ears, to help locate warning sounds around you, navigate safely through traffic, and walk safely across the road.
With our ears playing such an important role in our lives, it’s important to take care of our hearing health. If you’re worried about your hearing in any way, book a free appointment with one of our hearing care experts today.
1. “How Does Our Sense of Balance Work?” NCBI, IQWiG (Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care), 7 Sept. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279394.
2. “What to Know About Nose and Ear Growth as You Age.” WebMD, 19 Mar. 2021, www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/what-to-know-about-nose-and-ear-growth-as-you-age#1.
3. Legendre, Guillaume. “Sleepers Track Informative Speech in a...” Nature Human Behaviour, 14 Jan. 2019, www.nature.com/articles/s41562-018-0502-5?+utm_medium=affiliate&utm_source=commission_junction&utm_campaign=3_nsn6445_deeplink_PID100094349&utm_content=deeplink&error=cookies_not_supported&code=c32b47bb-225c-4135-8f65-955f23eee1dd.
4. “Noise-Induced Hearing Loss.” NIDCD, 31 May 2019, www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/noise-induced-hearing-loss.
5. Gaihede, Michael. “Middle Ear Pressure Regulation--Complementary Active Actions of the Mastoid and the Eustachian Tube.” PubMed, June 2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20393372
6. Orgeta, V., Mukadam, N., Sommerlad, A., & Livingston, G. (2019). The Lancet Commission on Dementia Prevention, Intervention, and Care: A call for action. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 36(2), 85-88. doi:10.1017/ipm.2018.4
7. Hebrank, Jack, and D. Wright. “Are Two Ears Necessary for Localization of Sound Sources on the Median Plane?” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Acoustical Society of America, 1974, asa.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1121/1.1903351.