Hearing is one of our five natural senses that aid us in experiencing and understanding the world around us. The process of hearing is quite fascinating and intricate if you look at the structures involved with making us hear sounds. In this article, we will focus on the structures of the ear that make us hear sounds as well as the process of hearing. When you understand the basic biology and functioning, it is easier to understand hearing impairment.
The Structures Involved with Hearing
When we think about our ear and how we hear most of us probably just envision the outer shell-shape part of our ear. However, this is just one part of it. Our ear actually consists of three parts.
The Outer Ear – The outer ear is the part we always think of. It is the shell-shaped part that is also called the pinna. The ear canal also forms part of the outer ear and it ends at the eardrum. If you were to use an earbud to clear wax from your ear, you will be placing the bud into the ear canal. This should also be done very carefully to avoid causing damage.
The Middle Ear – You often hear of children who have middle-ear infection. That means that they have an infection in the actual middle part of the ear. This part of the ear is host to the three smallest bones in the body and they are responsible for helping us hear. These three bones are called ossicles and include the malleus, incus, and stapes. They help with the sound vibrations.
The Inner Ear – The cochlea is found in the inner ear. The cochlea is the last part of the process and connects with the auditory nerve that sends signals to the brain. When someone suffers from hearing impairment, it often has to do with damage to the cochlea. That is why we have cochlear implants.
The Process of Hearing
Sound enters the ear – When a noise is made, for example, a someone speaking or music note played, the shell of the outer ear captures it and guides the sound through the ear canal to the eardrum.
The eardrum – The sound that travels to the eardrum makes it vibrate and carry the signals further into the middle ear.
The ossicles – In the middle ear, the ossicles pick up the vibrations and carry them to the cochlea in the inner ear.
The cochlea – Once the sound reaches the cochlea, it makes the hair cells move and bend which create neural signals that are picked up by the auditory nerve. The cochlea is basically the final transmitter before the signal reaches the brain for interpretation.
The auditory nerve – The auditory nerve carries the stimulus of sound to the brain where it is interpreted as a voice or a piano note. That is how we perceive sound and that is how we hear.
The process is truly amazing and delicate. It is easy to imagine that damage can occur if we don’t look after the structures involved with our hearing. You can find some tips on caring for hearing here. Also, visit the NIDCD website for more information.