How Hearing Works

For such a small and inconspicuous thing, the ear is one of the most complex structures in the human body.

The act of hearing itself involves multiple organic processes. Most of us know that we have an outer ear, middle ear, inner ear, and nerves that help us hear. But did you know that much of hearing actually occurs in the brain? Hearing is one of the five major senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing) and helps us orient ourselves in the environment as well as connect with others. Hearing happens when vibrations in the air are converted into vibrations in the organs of the ear. The brain turns these vibrations into sounds and therefore into something meaningful.

The intricate process of hearing occurs through five distinct stages of the hearing mechanism:

  1. Outer Ear (captures air vibrations)
  2. Middle Ear (converts air vibrations into mechanical vibrations of tissue)
  3. Inner Ear (vibrations move through fluid to stimulate hair cells)
  4. Acoustic Nerve (carries these signals through the auditory system to the brain)
  5. Auditory Processing by the Brain (processes the auditory signals and turns the sensations into recognizable sounds)

Hearing loss is categorized in three ways. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the hearing system is unable to interpret the fluid movements within the inner ear as sound signals, sometimes as a result of hair cell damage within the cochlea (inner ear). Conductive hearing loss occurs when the conduction of sound from the outside air to the inner ear is compromised or inhibited, often due to middle ear damage. Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive types of hearing loss. The main difference between sensorineural and conductive hearing loss is at which point along the auditory process the breakdown in hearing occurs.
Conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss are caused by different factors. For conductive hearing loss, anything that interferes with sound transmission can cause hearing to be reduced.

Some of the causes of conductive hearing loss include:

  • ear infections that cause fluid build-up
  • wax build-up in the ear canal
  • inability of the ear drum to transfer vibrations (injury or infection)
  • otosclerosis, a condition in which the bone surrounding the middle ear grow and block the movement of the ossicles (tiny bones)
  • congenital defects in the formation of the ear that inhibit sound transmission

For sensorineural hearing loss, anything that interferes with the pathway from the inner ear to the auditory nerve and brain can cause hearing to be reduced or lost. For example, if the auditory nerve is damaged through injury, illness, or birth defect it may not be able to transmit sound signals to the brain.

Possible causes of sensorineural hearing loss include:

  • extended exposure to loud sounds
  • damage to the hair cells in the inner ear (injury or infection)
  • loss of blood flow to the nerve
  • a brain tumor that blocks or damages the auditory nerve
  • inflammation of the brain nerve coverings, such as in meningitis or multiple sclerosis

At Sandia Hearing Aid Center, we can test and evaluate your hearing ability to find out exactly where this intricate hearing process may be weakened or compromised.

How hearing works
How hearing works

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Sandia Hearing Aid Center
2403 N. Union Blvd #101
Colorado Springs, CO 80909
King Hearing Aid Center
2616 N Elizabeth
Pueblo, CO 80909
(719) 296-6849
Sandia Hearing Aid Center
7608 N Union Suite F
Colorado Springs, CO 80920

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