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Middle ear

Also known as the tympanic cavity, the middle ear is an air-filled, membrane-lined space located between the ear canal and the Eustachian tube, cochlea, and auditory nerve. The eardrum separates this space from the ear canal. The area is pressurized.

The eardrum acts as a natural boundary between the middle ear and the ear canal. Pressure in the middle ear is maintained through the Eustachian tubes, which are closed when not in use. Each time a person swallows, the Eustachian tubes open and allow fresh air to enter into the tympanic cavity. This maintains a constant pressure gradient. Sometimes, this pressure is not equalized with the environment outside the head, and this is often the reason why some people experience discomfort in airplanes and at higher elevations

The cavity also plays a very important role in a person's ability to hear. Inside the middle ear, three small bones (ossicles) form a chain and conduct sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. Once in the fluid-filled inner ear, sounds are converted into nerve impulses and sent to the brain.

Written and medically reviewed by the Healthline Editorial Team
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In Depth: Middle ear

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