How the Ear Works
Hearing difficulties are common and the busy environments we live in are not always kind to our ears. If we understand how our ears work, and what enables us to hear the sounds around us, we are better placed to understand and deal with any hearing problems that may arise.
How We Hear
We have extraordinary ears! They are designed to pick up pressure waves of sound and translate them into the electrical signals received by the brain. The brain deciphers these signals and converts them into information we can understand, such as language or music, detecting volume (measured in decibels) and pitch.
The ear is made up of three parts:
1. The Outer Ear
The outer ear includes the visible ear itself, known as the pinna or auricle, the ear canal and the most superficial layer of the eardrum, the tympanic membrane. Sound waves are collected by the outer ears, travel down the ear canals and cause the eardrums to vibrate.
2. The Middle Ear
Vibrations from the eardrum travel into the middle ear, made up of three small bones/ossicles: the malleus (hammer), the incus (anvil) and the stapes (stirrups). The middle ear also includes the opening of the Eustachian tube.
3. The Inner Ear
The delicate inner ear includes the snail shell-shaped cochlea, the hearing organ, which contains tiny hair cells that move in response to vibrations passed from the ossicles. These tiny movements create an electrical signal that is transmitted through the auditory nerve to the brain. The inner ear is also home to the three semi-circular canals and the vestibule that make up the organ of balance.