A review of the structure-function relationships in normal, diseased and reconstructed middle ears is presented. Variables used to describe the system are sound pressure, volume velocity and acoustic impedance. We discuss the following
(1) Sound can be transmitted from the ear canal to the cochlea via two mechanisms: the tympanoossicular system (ossicular coupling) and direct acoustic stimulation of the oval and round windows (acoustic coupling). In the normal ear, middle-ear pressure gain, which is the result of ossicular coupling, is frequency-dependent and smaller than generally believed. Acoustic coupling is negligibly small in normal ears, but can play a significant role in some diseased and reconstructed ears.
(2) The severity of conductive hearing loss due to middle-ear disease or after tympanoplasty surgery can be predicted by the degree to which ossicular coupling, acoustic coupling, and stapes-cochlear input impedance are compromised. Such analyses are used to explain the air-bone gaps associated with lesions such as ossicular interruption, ossicular fixation and tympanic membrane perforation.
(3) With type IV and V tympanoplasty, hearing is determined solely by acoustic coupling. A quantitative analysis of structure-function relationships can both explain the wide range of observed postoperative hearing results and suggest surgical guidelines in order to optimize the post-operative results.
(4) In tympanoplasty types I, II and III, the hearing result depends on the efficacy of the reconstructed tympanic membrane, the efficacy of the reconstructed ossicular chain and adequacy of middle-ear aeration. Currently, our knowledge of the mechanics of these three factors is incomplete. The mechanics of mastoidectomy and stapedectomy are also discussed.