The Human Body

The Outer Ear

The outer ear is made up of the auricle, or pinna, and the outer auditory canal. The auricle is the curved part of the ear attached to the side of the head by small ligaments and muscles. It consists largely of elastic cartilage, and its shape helps collect sound waves from the air. The earlobe, or lobule, which hangs from the lower part of the auricle, contains mostly fatty tissue.

The outer auditory canal, which measures about 3 cm (about 1.25 in) in length, is a tubular passageway lined with delicate hairs and small glands that produce a wax-like secretion called cerumen. The canal leads from the auricle to a thin taut membrane called the eardrum or tympanic membrane, which is nearly round in shape and about 10 mm (0.4 in) wide. It is the vibration of the eardrum that sends sound waves deeper into the ear, where they can be processed by complex organs and prepared for transmission to the brain. The cerumen in the outer auditory canal traps and retains dust and dirt that might otherwise end up on the eardrum, impairing its ability to vibrate.

The inner two-thirds of the outer auditory canal is housed by the temporal bone, which also surrounds the middle and inner ear. The temporal bone protects these fragile areas of the ear.