Our Tips on Understanding Hearing

To understand how your hearing works, the first thing you need to know is that sound is simply vibrations that travel through the air.

When someone speaks to you, a bird sings, music plays or the telephone rings, vibrations are created and sent through the air. These are known as sound waves.

Almost all sound waves are unique, which is why each person, music, animals and things sound different. The simple explanation is that sounds waves come in different forms; some are high pitched, others low pitched, some loud and some soft.

When our ears capture sound waves, they translate them into messages our brains can understand. How well these sound waves are captured and how well they are transmitted and sent to our brain all depends on how well our ears are working.

To understand how our ears work, here is a quick biology lesson:

There are three parts to the ear:

  • The outer ear (which is the bit we can see...our earlobes) catches the sound waves and directs them into the middle ear.
  • The middle ear - transfers the sound waves from the air into mechanical pressure waves that are transmitted to the fluids of the inner ear.
  • The inner ear - turns the mechanical pressure waves from the middle ear into sound signals that your brain can understand.

The mechanics of Hearing:

Image courtesy of Cochlear, Australia.

  1. Sounds waves enter the ear canal and strike the ear drum
  2. The ear drum vibrates and causes the three small bones in the middle ear (known as ossicles) to vibrate.
  3. These vibrations cause the fluid in the spiral shaped inner ear (known as the cochlea) to move. This in turn moves the tiny hair cells in the cochlea. When the hair cells move, a chemical signal is produced and this stimulates the hearing nerve.
  4. The hearing nerve then transmits information to the brain via electrical impulses, where they are interpreted as sound.

Click here to see an animation produced by the American FDA demonstrating how hearing works