The next time you are crooning along to your favorite song, you may want to offer up some thanks to your cochlea. If it weren’t doing it’s job, you more than likely wouldn’t be able to hear the music.

nautilusYour cochlea is part of your inner ear. It looks a little like a nautilus or a spiral snail shell. For a little tiny piece of anatomy, there is a wealth of amazing things going on in there.

It’s about the size of a pea and it has close to 20,000 nerve cells hanging out in there just waiting to translate waves into sound. Sort of like tastebuds, the nerve cells have different functions and register different sounds. It is made up of bone and shaped into a spiral cone and divided into three sections; the tympanic canal, the vestibular canal, and the organ of corti. Each section is filled with a fluid called perilymph and lined with thousands of tiny hair like cells called stereocilia. Basically, when a sound wave enters your ear and reaches the cochlea, the vibrations stimulate the lymph which in turn causes the stereocilia to move and begin sending communication to the brain. The brain translates the messages and identifies them as sound. If it weren’t for your cochlea, you wouldn’t be able to hear sound. You would just feel waves.

human cochleaThe nerve cells in your cochlea can be damaged by loud noise, infection, or injury and this is what causes the difference in ability to interpret different sounds. Do you know people who can’t hear certain pitched sounds, whether high or low? Ever wonder why you can have certain damage in one in ear and not the other? That’s because your right and left side have varied nerve cells specific to each side. Those headphones you have that are marked R and L, it’s because the manufacturers know that you hear specific tones and levels in each ear. So, three cheers for your cochlea (but not too loud so all your cells stay happy and healthy).