How The Ear Works

Hearing: The sensory function in which sound waves in the air are converted to bio-electric signals, which are sent as nerve impulses to the brain, where they are interpreted.

Simply put:

  • sound travels down the ear canal as a wave through air particles
  • the vibrations of the air particles hit the ear drum (tympanic membrane) at the end of the ear canal
  • this makes the eardrum vibrate
  • these vibrations are passed to three small ear bones in turn – called the hammer, anvil, and stirrup (malleus, incus, and stapes), the middle ear bones
  • these three tiny bones amplify the vibrations as they pass through to the cochlea in the inner ear
  • thousands of tiny hairs in the cochlea change the vibrations into electrical signals
  • the acoustic (cochlear) nerve sends these signals to the brain
  • the brain tells you that you are hearing a sound, and what that sound is

a colourful diagram of the ear, with labelled parts, showing the outer, middle and inner ear