How Your Ear Works
Your ears are extraordinary organs. They pick up all the sounds around you and then translate this information into a form your brain can understand. It’s important you understand how your hearing works as well as the impact hearing loss can have on your quality of life.
Understanding How the Ear Works
The auditory system consists of four parts: the outer ear, middle ear, inner ear, and central auditory system.
The Outer Ear
The outer ear consists of the parts of the ear we can see, the pinna and the external auditory canal (ear canal). The pinna collects sound and funnels it into the external auditory canal. The external auditory canal is a curved tunnel that sends sound the sound down to the middle ear. It is lined with tiny hairs and has small glands which produce cerumen (ear wax).
The Middle Ear
The middle ear is an air filled space consisting of the tympanic membrane (eardrum) and the three tiny bones (the malleus, incus, and stapes). The tympanic membrane sits at the end of the ear canal. When sound waves traveling down the ear canal hit the tympanic membrane it begins to vibrate. The vibration of the tympanic membrane causes the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup) to move. The stapes transmits vibrations into the inner ear.
The Inner Ear
The inner ear consists of two parts: the organ of hearing and the organ of balance. The organ of hearing is called the cochlea. It is a snail shaped bony structure that is filled with fluid. The stapes transmits vibrations into the inner ear causing waves in the fluid. The waves create movement in tiny hair cells that line the cochlea. These tiny hair cells then excite the nerves of hearing.
The Central Auditory System
The central auditory system is a complex network of neural pathways that send the sound to the auditory centers in the brain. This part of the brain is responsible for processing the sound, providing localization, speech understanding, and other complex tasks such as hearing in noise and music perception.
The Impact of Hearing Loss
There are three main functions to hearing: communication and socialization, safety and alertness, and aesthetics or connection to our environments. Hearing loss not only makes it difficult to communicate with family and friends, but it also makes it more difficult for a person to hear sounds that may indicate danger. Furthermore, people with hearing loss miss out on music, birds and other sounds of life that connect us to the world around us.
Studies have shown that untreated hearing loss can result in:
- Challenges in relationships with friends and family
- Tendency toward social isolation
- Insecurity, stress and depression
- Increased risk to personal safety
- Impaired memory
- Reduced job performance and earning power
- Diminished psychological and overall health
The good news is that hearing loss treatment is shown to improve:
- Earning power
- Intimacy and warmth in family relationships
- Emotional stability
- Perception of mental function
- Ease in communication
- Sense of control over life events
- Physical health