The Mechanics of the Ear: How Hearing Works

Having a basic understanding of how hearing works can make treating hearing loss a less stressful process. Look for a hearing care provider or audiologist who offers workshops, educational resources, or uses tools that provide the patient clarity and control over the quality of their care.

Below are the basic elements of how sounds are received and interpreted as hearing.

  • The outer ear collects sound waves and directs them into the external auditory canal.
  • The ear canal carries sound waves to the eardrum (tympanic membrane).
  • Sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate.
  • The bones in the middle ear (malleus, incus, and stapes) pick up vibrations from the  eardrum.
  • The bones in the middle ear amplify the sound and transmit it to the inner ear.
  • Vibrations pass through the oval window to the inner ear, setting the fluid inside the cochlea in motion.
  • Special nerve cells (hair cells within the cochlea) then turn the sound waves into electrical impulses.
  • The auditory nerve sends these electrical impulses to the brain’s central auditory cortex, where it is processed as sound.