How Hearing Works

Learn how hearing works, why we have two ears, and how hearing impacts daily life.
types of hearing aids

How We Hear

Although hearing is the process of sound travelling through our outer, middle and inner ear, it’s our brain that interprets what we hear.

Each part of our ear plays an essential role in transmitting sound.

• Outer Ear – the part you can see (the pinna) and the ear canal

• Middle Ear – the eardrum and three tiny connected bones (ossicles), which are often called the hammer, anvil and stirrup

• Inner Ear – the snail-shaped cochlea and the hearing nerve, as well as semi-circular canals that help with balance

Our natural hearing depends on these parts working together. If you have a problem anywhere in this process, you may experience hearing loss.

Hearing, communication and brain function

Hearing is the first step in developing communication skills. It’s how children learn to recognize a parent — babies begin to notice sounds in the womb. Hearing is also a key part of learning to talk because children learn by mimicking sounds.

Although hearing isn’t the only way we communicate, hearing loss impacts how we speak and interact.

Older people with hearing loss are more likely to develop other problems — such as not being able to think clearly or remember — compared to people with normal hearing. Because the brain interprets sound, when someone loses hearing, the connections in the brain that respond to sound are not reorganised.

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