How hearing works?

When your hearing is working normally, information is being passed through each section of the ear to your loved one's brain. Your brain receives these messages and they will naturally respond.

Anatomy of your ear

There are three parts of the ear anatomy, the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The inner ear is also called the cochlea.

  • The outer ear consists of the pinna, ear canal and eardrum
  • The middle ear consists of the ossicles (malleus, incus, stapes) and ear drum
  • he inner ear consists of the cochlea, the auditory (hearing) nerve and the brain

The Outer Ear

Sound travels in waves travel through a narrow passageway called the ear canal to the ear drum. The outer ear (pinna) ‘catch’ sound waves and direct them through the ear canal to the protected middle ear. These incoming sound waves cause the ear drum to vibrate. This is where the process of understanding these sound waves begins.

The Middle Ear

Through these vibrations, imagine the skin on a musical drum vibrating when you strike it, causes the ossicles, a tiny chain of bones (malleus, incus, stapes) move in the middle ear.

The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose and throat by the Eustachian tube. This means that when your loved one yawns or swallows, the Eustachian tube can open to equalise the pressure on both sides the eardrum and prevent the membrane from being damaged.  

When you get a cold/flu symptoms the Eustachian tube can become blocked with mucus which can cause a build-up of pressure and temporary hearing impairment or loss as a result.

The Inner ear

The last bone in this process ‘taps on the membrane window of the spiral-shaped cochlea, which encourages the fluids in the cochlea to move and in doing so stimulate tiny hair cells on the inner wall of the cochlea. There are over 15,000 of these hairs, and stimulating them to move triggers electrical nerve impulses that are taken to the brain via the auditory nerve. From here, it's up to their brain to decipher those impulses as recognisable sounds.

Changes in your hearing

Hearing loss is a common problem and can affect anyone. As they get older, naturally their hearing changes. This can be a gradual process, they may not even know that they’ve lost some of their hearing or recognise the symptoms.

Hearing loss commonly comes from changes in the inner part of the ear, but can also arise from changes in the middle ear or along the nerve pathways. Understanding how hearing works and the causes of hearing loss can help you protect your loved one's hearing for the future or address ways of correcting hearing impairment

Balance and your ears

Aside from hearing, the ears do also have another important function: balance. Within the inner ear are three ringed canals containing fluid. The Posterior, Lateral and Anterior canals operate on different planes (think of measuring a box: it has length, depth and width) and the way the fluid in these canals moves around is how the brain helps to establish balance. The continued movement of these fluids is why people feel dizzy after spinning around, before feeling back to normal once the fluid settles again. Ear infections and medical conditions which reach the ear can also therefore affect balance as well as hearing.

If you’ve noticed changes in your loved one's hearing, maybe they’re struggling to understand a conversation feeling unable to respond, maybe they’ve noticed they need to turn the television up a little louder, or when in meetings or large groups they find it a challenge to provide the right response.

You can improve your loved one's hearing health by getting in touch with our team of expert Audiologists who can help them understand the changes in their hearing with a free, no obligation hearing test. We can help them understand the situations or environments where they’re struggling the most and the types of hearing solutions that are available for their hearing needs.

 Interactive Ear

Interactive Ear

Understand more about your hearing. Use our award-winning interactive guide and take a visual journey into the mechanics of the human ear.
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