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How hearing works

The ear, despite its small size, is a highly complex organ. Acting as sound filter, the ear transforms every sound audible to us into accurate information the brain can prioritise.

Each ear consists of delicate and highly complex mechanisms. In “the inner” ear, a sea of tiny sensory cells and nerve fibres pick up sound vibrations and transform them into electrical impulses for the brain to process.

If the ear is exposed to strong vibrations over time, the sensory cells and fibres can become damaged, if these are unable to heal or be replaced, this can lead to permanent hearing loss.

Anatomy

The ear is made up of three parts:

  • the outer ear (the external ear and the ear canal)
  • the middle ear (the ear drum and three very small bones)
  • the inner ear (the cochlea and auditory nerve)

Sound travels through the air in waves resulting in a series of vibrations within the ear. The brain then interprets those signals into meaningful sounds such as speech.

Our ears are small
but highly complex amplifiers
More information

Read about the first signs of hearing loss, different types of hearing loss and how the ear is constructed.