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Hearing is something most of us take for granted, but the human ear is a delicate, detailed sensory organ. How we hear is really a complicated process that can be better understood by looking at what makes up the ear.
There are three main sections of the human ear, and each serves a different purpose.
- Outer Ear: The external auditory canal is the visible part that is specially shaped to direct sound waves into the ear and helps process what a person hears. Sound enters the ear flap and is amplified in the ear canal, which leads to the middle ear.
- Middle Ear: Sound vibrations are transformed into energy that the body uses to process a sound and make it recognizable. It includes the ear drum, which is the vibrating tympanic membrane that turns sound waves into “movement” energy. It seals the outer ear from the middle ear. Three tiny bones (ossicles) take the sound from the ear drum to the inner ear. The hammer (the malleus) vibrates from the energy created by the eardrum and then passes that energy along to the anvil (the incus). It moves the energy to the stirrup (stapes), which then sends the vibration to the inner ear. The middle ear is where chronic ear disease usually occurs. It’s connected to the back of the nose by the Eustachian tube, which allows fluid and mucus to drain out of the air and lets air enter behind the ear drum.
- Inner Ear: This part of the ear includes the hearing and balance organs. In this section of the ear, you can find the cochlea. This spiral tube is filled with nerve cells that act like fine hairs that react and bend differently to vibrations. They transmit electrical signals depending on the kind of vibration produced. Three fluid-filled loops called the semicircular canals help you maintain your balance. When the fluid changes direction, tiny hairs known as cilia detect the changes and send electrical impulses to the brain to let it know that the human’s body has changed direction or orientation. The auditory nerve sends impulses generated by other parts of the inner ear to the brain, where the sounds are interpreted.
To simplify the hearing process, sound waves travel through the outer ear, are modulated or tempered by the middle ear and then are transmitted to a nerve in the inner ear that sends signals to the brain, where it translates them the sounds we recognize.
Because the ears are delicate, complex organs it is very important to take care of them and protect our hearing. For more information on hearing health, contact Hidden Hearing, Ireland’s leader in hearing health care, on freephone 1 800 818 808.