The ears may appear to be just a dangling appendage on your head but they are actually intricate organs responsible for both hearing and balance. The ear has three major sections:
1) the outer ear, which includes the earlobe and ear canal
2) the middle ear, comprised of the eardrum and the little ear bones and muscles beyond the drum
3) the inner ear, which is where things get really interesting
This inner ear portion has a bony structure that is divided into the cochlea, the semicircular canals and the vestibule. Together, the latter two are constantly working with the rest of your body to adjust and sense your orientation in relation to the pull of gravity on earth. This is what’s known as balance.
The cochlea transmits the sound vibrations from the ear canal and middle ear into pitches when the sound travels over tiny “hair” cells inside of it. The pitches are then converted into electrical impulses that travel to the brain via the cochlear nerve.
This branch of science that studies how humans perceive and use sound is called audiology. Since it deals with the body, the field is largely focused in the health care industry where professionals are involved with identifying, diagnosing, treating and evaluating hearing disorders. Some of these professionals have a Doctor title, as 18 states require a Doctor of Audiology (Au.D) degree to practice.
All are licensed in the state where he or she practices and must complete coursework at an institution accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA), a division of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
There are many other career tracks people in this field of study find rewarding. Some are involved in developing and designing listening devices while others focus solely on dispensing or selling said technologies. Researchers in this field are always in need in order to study and test decibel levels that are potentially damaging to the ears. In a world that’s increasingly noisy, qualified audiology specialists will always be needed in the science of balance and hearing.