How Does the Ear Function?: The organization of our auditory system is quite complex, but it may be informally split into two components, one called “peripheral” and the other “central.”
The peripheral auditory system is made up of three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear:
As can be seen, the outer ear is divided into three sections: the pinna (also known as the auricle), the ear canal, and the eardrum.
The middle ear is a small, air-filled region that contains three microscopic bones known as the malleus, incus, and stapes, which when connected together create the ossicles. The malleus connects the eardrum and out-of-the-ear canals, whereas the stapes (the smallest bone in the body) connect to the inner ear.
The inner ear contains both hearing and balance organs. Sound is processed in the cochlea of the inner ear. Because of the snail-like shape of the cochlea, the word “snail” in Greek implies “snail-like.”
The auditory nerve connects the cochlea to the central auditory system, which contains hundreds of sensory cells known as “hair cells.”
The cochlea contains special fluids that are required for hearing.
The central auditory system is made up of the auditory nerve and an extremely intricate journey between the brainstem and the auditory cortex of the brain.
Hearing physiology, like its anatomy, is extremely complex, and it is best understood by studying the roles of each component of our auditory system, as detailed above.
The pinnae on each side of our skulls pick up sound waves, which are vibrations in the air around us, and send them to our ear canals. Sound waves force the eardrum to vibrate, resulting in an ear infection.
The eardrum is so sensitive to sound waves in the ear canal that it can receive and reproduce even the almost inaudible sounds.
Sound waves cause eardrum vibrations, which move the chain of tiny bones in the middle ear (the ossicles – malleus, incus, and stapes) and transfer sound vibrations to the cochlea of the inner ear.
This is because the stapes, the last of three bones in this chain, sit in a membrane-covered window in the bony wall that separates the middle ear from the inner ear's cochlea.
The fluid in the cochlea flows in a wave-like pattern when the stapes vibrates, triggering the microscopic “hair cells.”
Surprisingly, the “hair cells” of the cochlea are tuned to respond to different tones dependent on pitch or tone frequency. High-pitched tones stimulate the lower cochlea's “hair cells,” whereas low-pitched tones stimulate the upper cochlea.
What occurs next is even more amazing, since when a “hair cell” recognizes the pitch or frequency of sound to which it is tuned, it generates nerve impulses that quickly travel down the auditory nerve.
These nerve impulses follow a circuitous path via the brainstem before reaching the brain's auditory centers, the auditory cortex. There, nerve impulse currents are transformed into audible sounds.
Everything happens in an instant. Sound waves are processed by our brains almost shortly after they enter our ears. At the end of the day, it's safe to say that we hear with our brains.
All components of our auditory system must function properly in order for sound to travel without distortion via the various portions of the ear to the brain for processing.
The part of your hearing that is malfunctioning determines the type of hearing problem you have.
Problems with the outer or middle ear indicate that sound is not being conveyed adequately to the inner ear.
This usually has an effect on the loudness of the sound, making it appear to be too quiet.
A classic occurrence is an ear canal blockage caused by earwax or a perforated eardrum.
Because sound waves are not efficiently conveyed, conductive hearing loss is referred to as such. The cochlea continues to function normally, but it is not receiving enough information from the middle ear via its connection.
Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is a problem somewhere between the cochlea in the inner ear and the brain.
The transit through the outer and middle ear is normally functioning, but the sound is not generally processed after it enters the cochlea, either due to damage to the sensitive “hair cells” in the cochlea or the auditory nerve or due to flaws in the auditory pathway leading to the brain.
Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors, the most common of which are excessive noise exposure or the effects of ageing.
Sensorineural hearing loss is characterized by difficulty hearing clearly and comprehending speech in complicated listening environments, such as background noise.
Friends in a coffee shop are debating how to improve the acoustics of the establishment.
The acoustics of a room or other indoor location has an important role in how well and comfortably you can hear.
Acoustics have a powerful impact on persons who have hearing loss, making understanding what is said either possible or impossible.
Hearing, listening, and understanding are all complex processes involving both physical aspects of the ear and a series of interactions in our brain.
There must be “auditory processing,” which suggests that the brain recognises and analyses the sounds we hear in order to convert them into meaningful information.
Auditory processing takes place unconsciously and without effort in people who have a complete hearing. It occurs with the same ease with which most people breathe.
Hearing and listening need effort and thought for people who have hearing loss or another condition that makes sound processing difficult. It gets even more challenging in an atmosphere with bad acoustics.
Acoustics are the characteristics that govern how a room or other enclosed environment reflects sound waves.
The capacity of a room to reflect sound waves in order to create clear hearing is referred to as ‘excellent acoustics.' Poor acoustics, on the other hand, means that sound waves are reflected in a way that distorts or interferes with what is heard.
It is also possible to have both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, which is referred to as mixed hearing loss.
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