Did you know that ears clean themselves? Or that they help you taste?
There’s more to those two much-used, but under-appreciated organs than you may yet have heard.
Here are 9 interesting and unusual facts about ears and hearing you probably didn’t know.
1. Earwax can determine your body odor
There are two types of earwax – wet earwax, which is brown and sticky, and dry earwax, which is ashen and flaky. The difference in earwax is caused by a single variation in the DNA that affects different parts of the body, including sweat glands. Researchers found that people with wet earwax sweat more than those with the dry variant, therefore also producing more body odor.
Interestingly, the type of earwax someone has can be attributed to their ethnicity; Europeans and Africans have overwhelmingly wet earwax, while Asians and Native Americans tend to have dry earwax.
2. Your inner ear has rocks in it!
There are little “pebbles” of calcium carbonate in your ear called “otoconia” that help the brain get a sense of up and down when we move. Sometimes, these rocks dislodge and enter one of the inner ear canals, confusing the brain into thinking the head is moving more than it actually is… and that can make you dizzy.
3. Your hearing depends on tiny hairs inside your ear
Inside the inner ear are thousands of tiny hair cells, which act as nerve receptors for hearing. Depending on the pitch of the sound, individual hair cells that respond to that particular frequency will be stimulated. The signals from the hair cells become the nerve impulses that the brain receives and processes.
4. Not all living creatures have ears to hear
But that doesn’t mean they’re deaf! Snakes use their jawbones to transmit vibrations to their inner ears, while fish detect the motion of nearby water particles caused by sound pressure waves. Every creature, it seems, has a way of sensing the outer environment, but not all have ears.
5. You get a new ear canal every year
The skin of the ear canal grows at a rate of 1.3 inches per year, replacing the old skin, which falls off. If the skin didn’t fall off, people would be walking around with strings of skin coming out of their ears!
6. Ears are self-cleaning
Time to throw the ear swabs away! Earwax effectively gets rid of itself. A study found that while earwax sticks to the inside of the ear at first, it dries out when air and dust enter the ear. When the ear gets slightly deformed (like when the jaws move), the dried out earwax falls out.
7. It’s not the ocean you hear in seashells
And it’s not the blood coursing through your veins, either. The shape of seashells makes it a good resonator of sound, and it amplifies certain frequencies of noise. This noise is the ambient noise that usually gets tuned out by the brain. So the “ocean” sound is just the surrounding air resonating inside the shell.
8. Ears help you taste
But not in the sense that if you put chocolate in your ear, you’ll be able to taste its sugar. There’s a nerve called the chorda tympani that runs from the front of the tongue to the brain via the middle ear.
A study done in 2008 found a surprising link between childhood ear infections and adulthood obesity; those who suffered from multiple middle ear infections as children were more likely to be overweight later on.
If the middle ear gets infected the chorda tympani may get damaged, affecting the tongue and taste buds. To preserve taste perception, the other taste buds compensate for the damage. In the process, it makes a person prefer fatty foods.
9. Ears know what time it is
Each person has a biological circadian clock that controls body functions such as sleeping, eating, body temperature, and hormone levels. Researchers have found that there is also a biological clock in the ear, controlled by the same genes that regulate circadian rhythms.
This body clock regulates the production of a hormone, BDNF, which protects the auditory nerve cells. During the day, the concentration of BDNF is higher and there is greater protection against permanent hearing loss. At night, this protective response doesn’t occur. So better be careful about blasting loud music at night! Audiologists say musicians should especially be concerned about this odd fact.
Wrapping it up… weired facts about the ear
There’s so much more to ears than what is commonly known and discussed. And what’s amazing is that there are more things being discovered about them — and the rest of the human body — everyday.
Who knows what else we can find if we only stop and look (or listen)?
Abel Cane loves to hear… but sometimes finds it difficult to listen. He’s working on that Catch up with Abel @boomalive.