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How Hearing Works

Like every other part of our bodies, our ears are complex and function in a miraculous way. Knowing how the various parts of our ears work together to allow us to hear can help patients better understand their particular type of hearing loss.

How Our Hearing Works

Simple sounds go through a lot before we actually hear them. A sound wave will enter into the outer portion of the ear and travel inside through our ear canal. Our eardrum begins to vibrate once it comes into contact with these sound waves, and this vibration sets into motion three of the tiniest bones in our body.

The movement of these bones sparks another chain reaction, as the fluid in our inner ear begins to move. This fluid creates a response amongst the tiny hairs in our ears, and as these hairs bend they transmit an electrical impulse to our brain via the auditory nerve. In what seems like an instant, our brain interprets the impulses as sound.

The Anatomy Of Our Ears

Categorized into three sections, our ears are made up of outer, middle, and inner areas. The outer ear is the part that’s visible to us, called the pinna, with a bowl shape that collects sound waves.The ear canal, as well as the earwax inside of it, are also considered to be parts of the outer ear.

The middle ear is where most of the moving parts are located, with the eardrum being the first element that interacts with sound waves. Referred to as the tympanic membrane, it is very thin but quite flexible. Three tiny bones are housed within the middle ear as well, and are named the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup). They work to transmit vibrations toward the inner ear. Pressure in our ears is also equalized in the middle ear as a function of the Eustachian tube.

Composed of two main structures, the inner ear is responsible for translating sound waves into electrical impulses. This is accomplished by the cochlea, an organ shaped like a snail’s shell, and its surrounding sensory hair cells. Our body’s balance is maintained by the semicircular canals, also located in the inner ear.