Do you know how your ears really work? The human ear is divided into three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The outer ear is what we all think of as our ear; it is what we see on the side of our heads. This is known as the auricle. The ear drum is the dividing line of the outer and middle ear. The middle ear is a cavity which contains the three smallest bones in our body. They are the malleus, incus, and the stapes. The inner ear is where we find the cochlea. The cochlea is a seashell shaped structure that houses over 30,000 hair cells which are responsible for different frequencies or pitch. These hair cells are surrounded by fluid.
As acoustic sound happens around us, our outer ear picks up the sound whether it is speech or noise. It then acts as a funnel and directs the sound to our eardrum. The sound makes our eardrum vibrate. As it vibrates the middle ear, the three tiny bones are put into a rocking motion. The last bone called the stapes then works as a plunger and creates a wave in the inner ear which allows the many hair cells to sway in the fluid. As the hair cells sway, an electrical signal from a part on the cochlea is sent to the brain. When this electrical signal reaches the brain, the brain perceives it and hopefully understands it as sound or speech.
This is the order of how our ears work. The importance of this is to know that the outer ear works as a funnel, while the middle and inner parts are transducers which send a signal to the brain. The final result is that we actually hear with our brain and not with our ears. That is why most people with hearing loss say they can hear they just don’t understand what someone is saying. They aren’t getting the right signals to the brain.
When a person has a degree of hearing loss, it is important that we send the correct signal to the brain. It’s also vital to begin doing so as quickly as possible so the brain doesn’t “forget” certain sounds over time. This is just one reason that having an annual hearing exam is very important!