How Hearing Works

Normal Ear Function

1. Sound waves enter your ear and travel through a narrow passageway called the ear canal, which leads to your eardrum.
2. Your eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves and sends these vibrations to three tiny bones in your middle ear. These bones are called the malleus, incus, and stapes.
3. The bones in your middle ear amplify the sound vibrations and send them to the cochlea, a snail-shaped structure filled with fluid, in the inner ear. An elastic membrane runs from the beginning to the end of the cochlea, splitting it into an upper part and lower part.
4. The sound vibrations cause the fluid inside your cochlea to ripple, and a traveling wave forms along the membrane.
5. Your hair cells – sensory cells sitting on top of the membrane – “ride the wave.” As the hair cells move up and down, they create an electrical signal.
6. Your auditory nerve carries this electrical signal to your brain, which translates it into a sound that you recognize and understand.

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