How hearing works

How do we hear?
The ear
The Outer Ear: Sound Waves
The Middle Ear: Vibrations
The Inner Ear: Nerve Signals


How do we hear?

Your ears collect and process sounds before sending signals to your brain. In the brain, these electrical signals from sound are read as recognisable information - language for example, or music with pitches and tones.

The ear

The ear is made up of three different sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. These parts all work together so you can hear and process sounds.

The Outer Ear: Sound Waves

Sounds are collected by the outer ear (the part people can see), which is also known as the pinna or auricle. Earwax is produced in the ear canal, which is part of the outer ear. Earwax traps dirt to help keep the ear canal clean and has chemicals to protect the ear canal from infection.

The Middle Ear: Vibrations

The middle ear receives sound waves that travel through the ear canal from the outer ear. Its job is to collect these sound waves and convert them into vibrations that are sent to the inner ear. For this to happen, the eardrum, a thin piece of skin stretched tight like a drum, is needed.
The eardrum separates the outer ear from the middle ear and the ossicles, which are the three smallest bones in your body. Sound waves reaching the eardrum cause it to vibrate. This impacts the ossicles and these bones help sound move along on its journey into the inner ear.

The Inner Ear: Nerve Signals

Sound comes into the inner ear as vibrations and enters the cochlea, a small, curled tube in the inner ear. The cochlea is filled with liquid, which is set into motion, like a wave, when the ossicles vibrate. This vibration causes the cochlea's tiny cells, covered in tiny hairs, to move, creating nerve signals that the brain reads as recognisable sounds.

 


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