A man cups his ear to enhance his hearing.

Nearly everyone has ears, and yours probably look very similar to everyone else’s. But have you ever thought about why they look the way they look? Today, we’d like to talk about why your ears have the shape they do.

What is the outer ear?

Hearing begins with the outer ear. Sound travels through the air as a pressure wave. The folds of skin and cartilage that come to mind when talking about your ear are called the pinnae. They help capture sound waves, amplifying them and funneling them into the inner ear. These folds in the pinnae are designed especially for humans to help enhance sounds most closely related to that of the human voice.

This is why cupping our hand around our ear helps us when we’re trying to hear a difficult sound. We are enhancing the natural shape of the pinnae, which in turn enhances their ability to capture sound waves. Similarly, this is why “ear horns” were used to enhance hearing before hearing aids were invented.

The pinnae help modify sound waves, too, and this change in resonance helps us to locate the source of a sound. For example, sounds from the front and sides are enhanced, while sounds from the back are reduced. The brain then determines the location of a sound based on the difference in the arrival time of a sound source between the two ears.

Not like animals

Our ears are specifically designed to capture and enhance sounds with a pitch that is typical for the human voice. Other sounds that aren’t a priority to humans aren’t enhanced, so we can focus on the sounds that are most important to us.

Certain animal species, like bats and elephants, have larger pinnae to help them hear and navigate in their environments. Other species have the ability to move their ears to help them enhance a sound or better localize.

Care for your hearing

The human ear has a fascinating design that helps your hearing abilities. However, if you find your hearing needs a bit of assistance, make an appointment with a CEENTA audiologist. With a variety of small, discreetly-sized hearing aids for any lifestyle – including those that use Bluetooth technology to stream from your phone or TV – they’ll find a way to treat any hearing loss and make sure your pinnae get the help they need in letting you hear.

This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. To schedule an appointment with her or any of CEENTA’s audiologists, call 704-295-3000. You can also schedule an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.


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