The concha is the inner curved portion of the ear. It is the visible part of the ear that surrounds the ear canal. The concha plays an important role in hearing by collecting and funneling sound into the ear canal.
Inside the concha, there are several structures that make up the intricate anatomy of the ear. These include:
The concha is composed of cartilage, which gives the ear its shape and flexibility. This cartilage is covered by a thin layer of skin on the outside and lines the ear canal on the inside. The cartilage of the concha is shaped like a shallow cup to collect and amplify sound.
The outer portion of the concha is covered in thin skin. This skin contains glands that produce earwax, as well as fine hairs and nerves that help with touch sensation.
The concha surrounds the opening to the ear canal, also known as the external auditory canal. This S-shaped canal leads sound from the concha to the eardrum. It is also lined with skin and fine hairs and ends at the eardrum.
The eardrum, also known as the tympanic membrane, lies at the end of the ear canal. This membrane vibrates when sound waves reach it, transmitting sounds to the small bones of the middle ear.
Arteries and Veins
Small blood vessels supply blood to the concha and ear canal. The arteries bring oxygenated blood, while the veins carry away waste products.
The concha contains nerve endings from several nerves that provide sensation:
- Auriculotemporal nerve – Supplies sensation to the front portion of the concha
- Auricular branch of vagus nerve – Supplies sensation to the back portion of the concha
- Greater auricular nerve – Provides sensation to the bottom portion of the concha and earlobe
- Lesser occipital nerve – Supplies sensation to the upper portion of the concha
There are very small intrinsic muscles in the concha that help with subtle movements of the outer ear. These include:
- Helicis major muscle
- Helicis minor muscle
- Tragicus muscle
- Antitragicus muscle
- Transverse auricular muscle
- Oblique auricular muscle
The concha contains specialized sweat glands called ceruminous glands. These glands produce earwax, also known as cerumen. Earwax protects the skin of the ear canal and prevents infection.
There is a layer of fatty connective tissue underneath the skin of the concha. This fat fills out the concha and helps with sound collection.
Although the concha may seem to be a simple structure, it contains intricate anatomy that allows it to amplify and funnel sound waves into the ear. Skin, cartilage, glands, nerves, blood vessels, muscles, and connective tissue all work together to make hearing possible.
The Concha’s Role in Hearing
The concha plays an important role in hearing by collecting and directing sound waves into the ear canal. Here are some key facts about the concha’s auditory function:
- Its curved shape helps collect sound waves and reflect them into the ear canal
- Its ridges and hollows help amplify certain sound frequencies
- It protects the entrance to the delicate ear canal
- It is able to subtly move to capture sounds from all directions
- Its size and shape gives each ear its unique appearance
Together with the ear canal and eardrum, the concha allows external sound waves to be transmitted and interpreted by the inner ear structures. Problems with the concha or ear canal can result in conductive hearing loss.
Diseases and Conditions Affecting the Concha
Several conditions can potentially affect the concha and impair its ability to direct sound into the ear canal. These include:
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that can affect the skin of the concha. It can cause itching, redness, scaling, oozing, and thickening of the skin.
Bacterial and fungal infections can infect the skin and cartilage of the concha. Infections are more common in diabetics and those with a weakened immune system.
The concha can be injured by physical trauma, burns, or frostbite. Hematomas caused by blunt trauma to the ear are commonly called “cauliflower ear.”
Ear piercings in the concha carry a risk of infection. They can also cause scarring or keloid formation.
These are benign bony growths that arise from the ear canal and can obstruct it. They are often called “surfer’s ear.”
Birth defects, accidents, or surgeries can sometimes deform the shape of the concha.
Very rarely, tumors like basal cell carcinoma can develop on the concha.
Diagnosing Concha Conditions
Concha conditions are diagnosed primarily by visual examination of the ear and physical assessment. Additional tests that may be used include:
- Microscope exam to magnify small structures
- Cultures to identify infections
- Allergy testing
- Patch testing for eczema
- X-rays or CT scans to visualize bony structures
- Audiometric testing to assess hearing function
Biopsies of abnormal tissue may sometimes be taken as well. Diagnosing the underlying problem correctly is important for effective treatment.
Treating Problems of the Concha
Treatment depends on the specific condition affecting the concha but may include:
- Antibiotic, antifungal, or steroid creams/drops for infections and eczema
- Oral antibiotics or antifungals for severe infections
- Surgical incision and drainage of hematomas
- Removal of exostoses or bony growths
- Surgical reconstruction in cases of deformity
- Cancer surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy
Avoiding irritants, trauma, and excess moisture can help prevent some concha conditions. Protecting the ears in cold/windy weather may also help.
The Concha and Hearing Loss
Problems with the concha can potentially lead to hearing loss. Here is an overview:
How the Concha Affects Hearing
- Collects and directs sound into ear canal
- Amplifies certain sound frequencies
- Protects entrance to delicate ear canal
- Subtly moves to capture sounds
Concha Conditions Linked to Hearing Loss
- Exostoses – obstruct ear canal
- Infections – damage sound transmission
- Eczema – obstruct ear canal
- Hematomas – distort shape of concha
- Deformities – alter sound collection
- Cancer – impair sound transmission
Types of Hearing Loss
- Conductive – outer/middle ear problems
- Sensorineural – inner ear problems
- Mixed – combination of conductive and sensorineural
- Medications to resolve infections
- Surgical repair of obstructing exostoses
- Hearing aids or implants
- Correction of anatomical defects
Protecting the concha from trauma and infections helps prevent associated hearing loss.
Interesting Facts About the Concha
- The concha amplifies sounds in the 2000-5000 Hz range important for hearing speech.
- The concha collects approximately 5x more sound energy than the ear canal alone.
- The ridges and hollows of each person’s concha are unique like a fingerprint.
- The concha continues developing and growing until age 12.
- The Venus of Willendorf artifact depicts exaggerated conchae from 25,000 BCE.
- Many animals such as deer, horses, and cats can swivel their conchae to locate sounds.
- Artificial conchae devices are being developed to improve hearing aid technology.
- Ear cropping surgery to shape dog’s ears often aims to exaggerate the concha.
The intricate shape of the visible outer ear is elegant yet functional in collecting and amplifying sound.
The concha is more than just the visible portion of the outer ear. It is an important anatomical structure that plays a critical role in hearing. Within its curves lie cartilage, skin, glands, blood vessels, nerves, muscles and more that enable it to funnel sound waves into the ear canal. A variety of conditions like infections, traumas, eczema, and exostoses can impair the concha and cause conductive hearing loss. Knowledge of its anatomy and function is key to diagnosing and treating the conditions that may affect this vital part of the ear.