A Quick Breakdown of The Inner Workings of The Ear

From excess noise, head trauma, medication, or disease to aging, ear malformations, infections, or other sources, hearing loss has many potential causes. Uncovering those potential causes starts with understanding how hearing works.

A senior cupping his ear to hear better

Hearing Involves Multiple Steps

Hearing, which primarily depends on the brain and the outer, middle, and inner parts of your ear, involves several steps. Here are a few of the major ones:

  • Sound in the form of vibrations or sound waves enters the outer ear.
  • The outer ear funnels sound through the ear canal to the eardrum.
  • The eardrum vibrates, sending the vibrations to the middle ear.
  • The middle ear transmits the vibrations to the fluid-filled cochlea of the inner ear.
  • Tiny hair cells in the cochlear convert the vibrations to nerve impulses.
  • The hearing nerve sends the impulses to the brain, which interprets them as sound.


Ears & the Brain Work Together

Many people don’t realize that hearing actually happens in the brain rather than in the ears; it’s the brain that processes sound, including recognizing and identifying sound, using your ears to help orient your body for maximum hearing, and separating the noises you don’t want to hear from the sounds you do.

Like eyes and vision, the ears work as a team to effectively filter and relay sounds and information to the brain. It’s one of the reasons binaural hearing — in other words, the use of both ears — matters so much. It’s essential for localization, or the ability to differentiate the source and direction of a sound.


Ears Help With Balance

Ears also play a role in balance. Your inner ear includes the cochlea and the vestibular, or balance, system. The cochlea is where sound signals are captured, converted to electrical signals, and sent to the brain to be interpreted. The vestibular system, which comprises three bony canals and two pouches, tells your brain where your head is in space and when and how it’s moving.

Both hearing and balance depend heavily on the status of your inner ear, so it makes sense that what affects one may affect the other. Though not all hearing issues involve balance problems and not all balance disorders involve hearing-related conditions, they can intersect.

Do you have questions or concerns about ear or hearing health? The expert team at ENT, Sinus & Hearing Care Center can help. To learn more or to schedule an evaluation, contact us today.

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