How Does the Ear Function?: Our auditory system is quite complex, but it can be roughly divided into two components, one "peripheral" and one "central."
The peripheral auditory system is divided into three distinct components: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear.
As seen, the outer ear is divided into three sections: the pinna (auricle), the ear canal, and the eardrum.
The middle ear is a small, air-filled region that contains three microscopic bones called the malleus, incus, and stapes, which together form the ossicles. The malleus connects the eardrum and out-of-the-ear canals, whereas the stapes (the body's smallest bone) connects to the inner ear.
Both hearing and balance organs are located in the inner ear. The cochlea of the inner ear processes sound. Due to the cochlea's snail-like shape, the term "snail" in Greek translates as "snail-like."
The auditory nerve connects the cochlea to the auditory central system, which contains hundreds of sensory cells dubbed "hair cells."
The cochlea contains unique fluids necessary for hearing.
The central auditory system is composed of the auditory nerve and an extremely intricate pathway connecting the brainstem to the brain's auditory cortex.
As with its anatomy, hearing physiology is extremely complex, and it is best understood by examining the roles of each component of our auditory system, as detailed above.
The pinnae on each side of our skulls detect and transmit sound waves, which are vibrations in the air around us. The eardrum vibrates as a result of the sound waves, resulting in an ear infection.
The eardrum is extremely sensitive to sound waves in the ear canal and is capable of receiving and reproducing sounds that are almost inaudible.
Sound waves vibrate the eardrum, which in turn moves the chain of tiny bones in the middle ear (the ossicles – malleus, incus, and stapes) and transmit sound vibrations to the inner ear's cochlea.
This is because the stapes, the third bone in this chain, is located in a membrane-covered window in the bony wall that separates the middle ear from the cochlea of the inner ear.
When the stapes vibrates, the fluid in the cochlea flows in a wave-like pattern, activating the microscopic "hair cells."
Surprisingly, the cochlea's "hair cells" are tuned to respond differently to different tones based on pitch or tone frequency. The lower cochlea's "hair cells" are stimulated by high-pitched tones, whereas the upper cochlea's "hair cells" are stimulated by low-pitched tones.
What follows is even more remarkable, because when a "hair cell" recognizes the pitch or frequency of a sound to which it is tuned, it generates nerve impulses that rapidly travel down the auditory nerve.
These nerve impulses take a circuitous route through the brainstem before reaching the auditory cortex in the brain. At this location, nerve impulse currents are converted to audible sounds.
Everything occurs in a split second. Our brains begin processing sound waves almost immediately after they enter our ears. Finally, it is safe to say that we hear with our brains.
All components of our auditory system must work properly for sound to travel without distortion through the various components of the ear to the brain for processing.
The malfunctioning component of your hearing determines the type of hearing problem you have.
Issues with the outer or middle ear indicate that sound is not reaching the inner ear adequately.
This typically has an effect on the volume of the sound, giving the impression that it is too quiet.
An ear canal blockage caused by earwax or a perforated eardrum is a common occurrence.
Due to the inefficiency with which sound waves are transmitted, conductive hearing loss is referred to as such. The cochlea continues to function normally, but it is not receiving enough information via its connection from the middle ear.
Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is an issue between the inner ear's cochlea and the brain.
While the outer and middle ear is normally functioning, the sound is not processed once it enters the cochlea, either due to damage to the sensitive "hair cells" in the cochlea or auditory nerve or due to flaws in the auditory pathway leading to the brain.
Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by a variety of factors, the most common being excessive noise exposure or the aging process.
Sensorineural hearing loss is defined by an inability to hear clearly and comprehend speech in complex listening environments, such as those with background noise.
In a coffee shop, friends are debating how to improve the establishment's acoustics.
The acoustics of a room or other enclosed space plays a critical role in determining how well and comfortably you can hear.
Acoustics have a profound effect on individuals who are hard of hearing, making comprehension of what is said either possible or impossible.
Hearing, listening, and comprehension are all intricate processes that involve both physical aspects of the ear and a series of brain interactions.
There must be "auditory processing," which entails the brain identifying and analyzing the sounds we hear in order to convert them to meaningful information.
Auditory processing occurs automatically and without conscious effort in people with complete hearing. It occurs naturally, in the same way that the majority of people breathe.
Hearing and listening require effort and consideration for people who have hearing loss or another condition that impairs their ability to process sound. It becomes even more difficult in an environment with poor acoustics.
Acoustics are the properties of a room or other enclosed environment that govern how sound waves are reflected.
'Excellent acoustics' refers to a room's ability to reflect sound waves in order to create clear hearing. On the other hand, poor acoustics means that sound waves are reflected in such a way that they distort or interfere with what is heard.
Additionally, it is possible to suffer from both conductive and sensorineural hearing loss, a condition known as mixed hearing loss.
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