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How does hearing work?

"by " Albert Stein

You may know about the importance of looking after your hearing and the symptoms and treatments of hearing loss, but how much do you know about how your ears and hearing actually work?

Of course, hearing starts with the ears, which are divided into three parts: the outer, middle and inner. All three are involved in the process of hearing, transforming audible sound into information for the brain to process. The inner ear consists of the cochlea and auditory nerves, with cells and fibres transforming sound vibrations into electrical impulses. 

When sound waves pass through the outer ear and the ear canal, the eardrum vibrates. Next, the middle ear bones (hammer, anvil and stirrup, all known as ossicles) amplify this sound, transmitting it to the inner ear where the aforementioned cells and fibres convert the sounds to neural messages. This is how the brain registers sounds, taking just a fraction of a second for the entire process.

The vibrations mentioned before can become damaging to the ears over time if they are particularly strong. The sensory cells and fibres can become affected, and if they do not heal or can't be replaced, hearing loss can occur.
According to the New Zealand Audiological Society*, excessive ear wax or fluid behind the ear drum can also lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss. Otosclerosis is another common cause of hearing loss, which is when abnormal hearing-bone growth interferes with the sound transmission. According to the Audiological Society, this can often be treated with the use of hearing aids*.

If you are concerned about your hearing or wish to learn more about your hearing health, click here to book an appointment or call 1800 340 631.

*New Zealand Audiological Society, How does my hearing work? Accessed March 19, 2015. Available here.