How our ears work

Your ears are amazing, intricate instruments and one of their most important roles is helping you to hear what is going on around you. So how do they do it?

Well, the ear is made up of three separate sections, the outer, middle and inner ear; they work together to turn sound waves into electrical impulses which are then sent to the brain to be interpreted.

Sounds, in the form of waves, enter our ear through the pinna and travel down the ear canal to the eardrum (a flexible membrane) which causes it to vibrate and pass sound waves into the middle ear. In the middle ear there is a series of three tiny bones: the malleus (also known as the hammer), the Incus (or anvil) and the stapes (stirrup). As the eardrum vibrates it moves these tiny bones (collectively known as the ossicles) which increase the vibrations and help sound move along to the inner ear.

The inner ear contains the cochlea; a small curled tube that resembles a snail shell. The cochlea is filled with fluid and lined with around 15,000 sensory hair cells.

As vibrations pass through the fluid in the cochlea it moves, which in turn moves the tiny hair cells. These hair cells turn the vibrations into electrical impulses that travel along the auditory nerve to the brain which translates the electrical impulses.

 Diagram Of Inner Ear

A normal, healthy ear can hear a range of frequencies (measured in Hertz (HZ)) from 20 to 20,000; different hair cells pick up different frequencies of sound depending where they are positioned in the cochlea so, when these hair cells are damaged, it can affect your ability to hear the entire range of frequencies. Learn more in our section about hearing loss.

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