What Is the Ear Canal?

Because of their proximity to the brain, infected ears should be taken seriously.
The ear canal connects the inner ear with the outer ear.
A doctor will use an otoscope to see inside a patient's ear.
Article Details
  • Written By: Marisa O'Connor
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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The ear canal makes up almost a third of the human auditory system. It plays a key role in carrying sound vibrations from outside the ear to the brain. It is also essential in keeping the inner ear and brain free from dirt and bacteria. Ear infections and other problems in the ear canal need to be taken seriously because of its proximity to the brain.

The ear canal is a small tube located in the middle ear that connects the outer ear to the inner ear. It travels from the outer ear to the eardrum. The average length of the canal is 26 mm (1.02 inches), with a diameter of 7 mm (about 0.25 inches). The actual size varies with each individual.

One function of this tube is to carry sound from the outer ear to the eardrum. Hearing may be impaired when problems occur within the canal. An over-production of wax can block the passage of sound to the eardrum. Ear infections cause the ear canal to swell, which can also affect hearing. Basically, anything that affects the canal can also cause hearing problems.

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The lining of the ear canal produces ear wax. The primary function of ear wax is to line the skin of the canal. The wax protects the skin from infection with its bacteria-killing components. Its thick, sticky texture collects dirt and other foreign substances like fly paper collects flies, keeping the inner ear clean. Too much wax can cause hearing problems and should be removed by a physician if it becomes problematic.

The ear canal is particularly vulnerable to infection and problems. It is located inside the ear, but it is also open to bacteria from outside the ear. Like the nose and mouth, the ears are a popular place for children to stick their fingers, which are likely carrying a lot of bacteria and germs.

Ear infections are one of the most common problems that can occur in the ear canal. The skin lining the ear canal is susceptible to dermatitis, otherwise known as an allergic reaction. Ear fungus can develop, as well as a rare condition called ear myiasis, which is an infestation of maggots in the ear. Surgery within the ear can leave scar tissue, which can cause a narrowing of the canal, called stenosis. Stenosis can occur within the canal for any number of reasons, from scarring to birth defects.

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Discuss this Article

Andrade
Post 3

I constantly have itching in my ear canal. Sometimes it’s really intense and drives me crazy. I also sometimes have flaking pieces coming out of my ear, like crusty skin.

The doctor said it was just a dry ear canal and not to use anything drying, like rubbing alcohol, to clean my ears. I’ve followed her advice but it hasn’t stopped the itching or flaking. Does anyone else deal with this?

Othilia
Post 2

@Eli222- I take care of my brother who has a deformed ear canal, so I know how hard it is to clean someone else’s ears.

His ENT told me that the best way to clear the wax from his ear was to first place a few drops of warm water in the ear canal. This loosens the wax. Then use a cotton swab to swipe out the wax you can see. Never go probing.

If your grandma is pulling on her ears, she might have some other problem. You might want to have her ears looked at by a specialist just to make sure it’s nothing more serious.

Eli222
Post 1

I take care of my grandma and she always has a lot of wax in her ears. Her doctor said the reason for all the wax is that she has really small ear canals. I try to help her clean them because she has a little dementia, but I’m always afraid I’ll hurt her ear or even push the wax further in. I know that it must bother her because she’s constantly pulling at her ears.

If anyone has any tips for cleaning out ears safely, I would love to hear them!

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