how hearing works

Hearing is an essential part of how we communicate with others and become aware of sounds that happen in our immediate environment. Our hearing abilities start in our ears with the channeling of sound along the hearing pathway which are turned into electrical signs that travel to the brain (shown in the diagram above).

The hearing pathway is divided into four distinct sections that play important and unique parts in our overall hearing abilities.

These sections are shown below show in more detail how hearing works:

Hearing Loss occurs when one or more parts of the ear and/or the parts of the brain that make up the hearing pathway do not function normally.

For a quick and visual overview of how hearing works, hearing loss and hearing technologies try using our Interactive Ear.

Outer Ear


The Outer Ear (click on the image to enlarge).

The Outer Ear captures and concentrates the sounds we hear and channels them into the Middle Ear. The Outer Ear is made up of two parts called the Pinna and the Ear Canal. The Pinna is a soft and flexible tissue that makes up the most of the visible ear. It plays an important role in shaping the sound to help the brain work out the direction from which sounds are coming.

The Ear Canal is the physical pathway that directs sound, which has arrived at the Outer Ear, also known as the Pinna into the Middle Ear.

Middle Ear


The Middle Ear (click on the image to enlarge).

The Middle Ear starts with the Tympanic Membrane, better known as the Eardrum, which vibrates due to differences in pressure caused by soundwaves.

The Eardrum is connected to three small interconnected bones called the Ossicles that vibrate with the Eardrum.

The last of these bones, called the Stapes, the passes on these vibrations into the Inner Ear.


Inner Ear


The Inner Ear (click on the image to enlarge).

The Inner Ear contains the organs that create our sense of hearing and balance. The Cochlea is the organ in that converts mechanical sound vibrations into nerve signals. using hair-like nerve filaments, called hair cells. These hair cells are arranged so that different cells respond to different pitches.

The electrical currents produced in the Cochlea are then transmitted to the auditory nerve, which passs through several ‘relay stations’ in the Brainstem before reaching a more complex part of the brain, the Auditory Cortex, where the information contained sound can interpret and understood.

The Vestibule


The Vestibule (click on image to enlarge).

The Vestibule, with its Semicircular Canals, is the organ that provides us with our sense of balance, direction and spatial orientation. Vestibule problems can be linked to hearing problems such as Hyperacusis, Meniere’s Disease, Tinnitus and Vertigo, which can also affect a person’s balance.

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