Outer ear

The outer ear consists of the pinna (the visible part of your ear) and the ear canal. The pinna picks up sound, and the ear canal acts like a funnel that amplifies sound waves and delivers them to the eardrum. When the sound waves reach the eardrum, they cause it to vibrate, which sets off a chain reaction in the middle ear.

Middle ear

A chain of three tiny bones is attached to the other side of the eardrum.  These bones are called the malleus, incus, and stapes (hammer, anvil, and stirrup), and together they are known as the ossicles.  When the eardrum vibrates, it causes the chain of ossicles to move, amplifying the vibrations and passing them from the eardrum to the inner ear.

Inner ear

The part of the inner ear which processes sound is called the cochlea. This snail-shaped organ contains thousands of specialized cells called hair cells which convert the movement of the middle ear ossicles into electrical signals. The auditory nerve then transmits these signals to the brain, which interprets the sound into what we hear. Then, your brain analyzes the acoustic scene to help you identify sounds and voices.

How hearing works

FAQs about how our ears work

Incoming sound vibrations cause fluid in the cochlea to move. This fluid movement causes the hair cells in the cochlea to bend, which generates electrical signals. These signals are transmitted to the auditory nerve and sent to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound.

The auditory nerve carries the electrical signals generated by the cochlea to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound. This allows us to perceive and understand the sounds around us.

A problem with the ear can affect one or more components of the ear, resulting in hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, or other symptoms. These problems can be caused by various factors, including age, exposure to loud noises, ear infections, and genetics.

In some cases, the ear can repair itself if it is damaged. For example, if the eardrum is perforated, it can often heal on its own if the cause of the perforation has been treated. In other cases, such as inner ear hearing loss, the damage may be permanent or require medical intervention.

We can protect our ears from damage by avoiding exposure to loud noises, wearing ear protection when necessary, and seeking prompt medical attention if we experience hearing problems. 

Yes, the ear can differentiate between different sounds based on their frequency, intensity, and other characteristics. This allows us to distinguish between different speech sounds, musical notes, and other sounds in our environment.

The ear can adapt to changes in sound levels by adjusting the sensitivity of the hair cells in the cochlea. This may provide a small amount of protection from loud sounds and increased sensitivity of soft sounds to maintain a consistent level of hearing in different environments.

Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing in the ear that is not caused by an external sound. It can be  caused by various factors, including damage to the ear, hearing loss, and exposure to loud noises. Tinnitus is a common symptom of hearing loss.

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