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Inner ear

In simple terms, there are three parts to the hearing system.  This includes the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear which is housed under your mastoid bone (part of skull) behind your ears.  You can learn more about the inner ear below and by contacting Lansdowne Hearing.

Want to know more about the inner ear?

The inner ear contains the sensory organs for hearing and balance. The cochlea is the hearing part of the inner ear. The semicircular canals in the inner ear are part of our balance system.

The cochlea is a bony structure shaped like a snail and filled with two fluids (endolymph and perilymph). The Organ of Corti is the sensory receptor inside the cochlea which holds the hair cells, the nerve receptors for hearing.

The mechanical energy from movement of the middle ear bones pushes in a membrane (the oval window) in the cochlea. This force moves the cochlea’s fluids that, in turn, stimulate tiny hair cells. Individual hair cells respond to specific sound frequencies (pitches) so that, depending on the pitch of the sound, only certain hair cells are stimulated.

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Signals from these hair cells are changed into nerve impulses. The nerve impulses are sent out to the brain by the cochlear portion of the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve carries impulses from the cochlea to a relay station in the mid-brain, the cochlear nucleus. These nerve impulses are then carried on to other brain pathways that end in the auditory cortex (hearing part) of the brain.

Also housed within the inner ear are the semicircular canals, the utricle, and the saccule. These structures help control one’s sense of steadiness or balance. These balance organs share the temporal bone space with the cochlea. These organs also share the same fluid that is in the cochlea.

Source:  American Speech Language Hearing Association

Can you simplify the hearing process?

At the basic level, we are going to describe the hearing process so you do not need a science degree to understand how we hear.  The explanation will be given according to how the three parts of the ear function and they are:

  • Outer Ear:  You can see most of this.  It includes the radar looking part of your ear, the pinna, and the ear canal all the way to the ear drum (tympanic membrane).  Sounds have waves which get captured by your pinna and travel down your ear canal to your ear drum.  Your ear drum is pretty flexible so the sound waves actually move this drum like the drum in a marching band.
  • Middle Ear:  You can’t see this.  It is on the other side of the ear drum and composed of three little bones called ossicles that move in a fluid motion like the pistons in a car’s engine.  The sound waves from the outer ear move the ear drum which in turn move the three little bones in the middle ear.  The third bone (stapes) in the middle ear is connected to the inner ear.  As you can see, the ossicles are a lot smaller than a dime!

  • Inner Ear:  You also can’t see this.  The third bone in the middle ear (stapes) mechanically transmits movement to the cochlea which is the central organ of the inner ear.  Specifically, the stapes moves against a connective tissue of the oval window.  This movement causes mechanical movement on cellular level hairs in the basilar membrane of the cochlea and eventually this is converted to chemical and electrical signals which travel through the auditory nerve to the brain, which processes the sound.

A hearing summary

The hearing process is like a relay race at a track meet.  The starter is like the outer ear where the sound or speech start the race and bring the baton to the ear drum.  The baton hand off is at the ear drum where the second runner takes it through the bones of the middle ear and brings the baton to the oval window of the cochlea.  The third runner then takes the baton at the oval window in the cochlea and runs it up the auditory nerve in the brain and so we hear.

Lansdowne Hearing can help you understand this more if you like.  Please call us at 610-259-9441 or complete the form.

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