Ears pick up sound waves and change it into information that the brain can interpret, such as speech or music. Here’s how it happens, step by step:
The outer ear works in a similar way to a funnel, concentrating the sound waves.
The sound waves then travel along the ear canal, reaching the eardrum at the intersection between the outer and middle ear.
The eardrum vibrates with sound.
The vibrations caused by the sound waves reach the three tiny bones in the middle ear, known as ossicles, which then transmit the vibrations to the cochlea, a spiral-shaped, fluid-filled tube in the inner ear.
The sound vibrations cause the fluid in the cochlea to move.
Movement of the fluid causes the sensory hair cells in the inner ear to bend.
The hair cells create electrical signals, which are picked up by the auditory (hearing) nerve. Hair cells at the apex (or tip) of the cochlea send low-pitch sound information while the cells at the base of the cochlea send high-pitch sound information.
The auditory nerve sends signals to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound.
One small problem within this complex system can make a huge difference to whether, or how well, someone can hear.
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