How Do Your Ears Work?


The auditory system is complex and consists of many different parts that work together to help you hear. It can be divided into two parts: the peripheral hearing system and the central hearing system. Below is an overview of the different components of the auditory system and how they work.

Peripheral Hearing System

structure of an ear

The peripheral hearing system is comprised of the outer ear, middle ear and inner ear.

Outer Ear

The outer ear includes the pinna (also called the auricle), the part you can see, which funnels soundwaves into the ear canal. At the bottom of the ear canal is the tympanic membrane (eardrum), which vibrates in response to sound.

Middle Ear

The middle ear is a small air pocket behind the eardrum that hold the ossicles, which are three tiny bones. The bones are called the malleus, incus and stapes. The malleus is connected to the eardrum, and the stapes (the smallest bone in the body) connects to the inner ear. The three ossicles work together to translate soundwaves to the inner ear.

Inner Ear

The inner ear is responsible for both hearing and balance. The cochlea is the part that helps you hear; it contains fluid called the endolymph, which moves in response to sound vibrations, as well as thousands of tiny hair cells called stereocilia, which convert soundwaves to electrical energy that can be interpreted by the brain as sound.

The inner ear also contains the semicircular canals, which help you balance. They are also filled with endolymph that moves in response to head movements, as well as stereocilia, which work as motion sensors to help you orient your body in space.

Central Hearing System

The central hearing system consists of the auditory nerve, or the pathway for electrical sound energy from the cochlea to the brain, and the auditory cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for making meaning of the auditory input.

Hearing System Malfunction

If you have a problem with your outer or middle ear, such as impacted earwax or a middle ear infection, conductive hearing loss is the result. Conductive hearing loss can be improved or reversed by treating the underlying condition.

If you have damage to the inner ear, which is common after exposure to excessively loud noise, you have sensorineural hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is irreversible and can be managed by hearing aids or a cochlear implant.

To learn more about the auditory system, contact a Topeka ENT audiologist provider today!

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