Hearing is a complex process that involves many parts of the ear working together to convert sound waves into information that is sent to the brain where that sound is interpreted and understood.
The ear consists of three main parts:
Simply put, sound, which includes speech, enters the ears and is received and moved along a defined pathway to the auditory areas (or hearing centers) of the brain where that sound is understood. The different parts of the ear and rest of the auditory pathway act as way stations by reacting to and moving sound to the next way station in the hearing system. Any time there is a disruption to the travel of sound as it makes its way to its final destination, the auditory areas of the brain, the result is a hearing loss or disorder. The outer ear, middle ear, inner ear and auditory centers of the brain all make up the auditory system. Here’s how it works:
- The outer ear collects sound waves moving through the air and directs them to the eardrum.
- The eardrum vibrates with sound.
- Sound vibrations move from the eardrum through the ossicles (bones in the middle ear) to the cochlea.
- Sound vibrations cause the fluid and tiny hair cells inside the cochlea to move.
- Hair cell movement creates neural signals, which are picked up by the auditory (hearing) nerve.
- The auditory nerve sends signals to the auditory areas (or hearing centers) of the brain, where they are interpreted as sounds and speech.
So, while sound is received by the ear, it is actually heard in the brain.