What is the middle ear?

The middle ear is the space between your outer ear and the inner ear, which sends sound to the brain. While you can’t see your middle ear, you’ve probably felt it during airplane landings.  As the plane descends, unequal pressure on both sides of the eardrum can create a short term sharp pain in the middle ear. Many professionals suggest special breathing exercises to avoid the pain of “airplane ear.”

The Ossicles

Your middle ear contains three bones – the malleus, incus and stape – which together are known as the ossicles.  These are the smallest bones in the human body. These three tiny bones of the middle ear are like a drumstick, pounding on the cochlea window to the liquid inner ear.

The Eustachian tube

The Eusatacian Tube, or auditory tube, is also part of the middle ear. This is a tube that leads to your throat and helps equalize the pressure in your head. That’s why it can be helpful to breathe deeply or even chew gum in order to equalize pressure when you descend in an airplane.

The middle ear
and hearing loss

The middle ear is usually filled with air, but sometimes the Eustacian Tube fills up with fluid. This means it can’t equalize the pressure in your head. The middle ear pain is often linked to a throat infection. Fluid in the ear can cause mild temporary hearing loss – a bit like being “stuffed up” when you have a cold.  

Sometimes this infection will be treated with antibiotics. Repeated ear infections may require the insertion of a small pressure equalization tube in the eardrum to serve as a “drain”. Insertion of this type of tube often requires outpatient surgery, although the drains usually fall out by themselves when they are no longer needed. 

Hearing care professional testing a patient's hearing.