villager article - how hearing works

Articles from The Villager part 3

I have previously shared with you my own hearing difficulties from a very young age. It is only recently that have I come to understand just how disempowering it was for me, despite the “mildness” of the problem, as considered by the ear specialists.

The organ of hearing is the cochlear of which we have two; one on each side of the head. Fans of Star Trek would argue the case for the third Final Frontear. Each cochlear is the size of large pea, located deep inside the skull and cannot be accessed and removed from a living person like our other organs. They are quite simply a mush of extremely complex physiological mechanisms that we are still learning about today.

The basic mechanics we have known for some time. Sounds arrive at the Pinna; those flaps attached to the side our heads which we often call our “ears” and for holding our glasses on. This is just the start of the journey. Those sounds enter the dark, moist, waxy tube of our ear canal where certain pitches have been measured to enhance naturally. 

The sounds then hit the ear-drum and are also amplified before passing into the middle ear. In this air filled cavity  are the three smallest bones in the body, the malleus, incus and the stapes and about the size of small grains of rice.  As the sounds travel through these bones causing them to vibrate, those same sounds are amplified even more and guess what, it has been figured out by how much!

This amazing process continues into the cochlear. This is a coil of flesh consisting of fluid, membranes and thousands of tiny hair cells. The sound vibrations enter the cochlear resulting in fluid movement which stimulate the hair-cells depending on the pitch of the noise. So, nature provides the majority of us at birth with a beautifully toned   system allowing our brains to interpret the pitch, volume and location of sound.

It is important to remember that it is our brains that process all this information; the ears simply send it there.

Whilst we take our hearing for granted, it is abused for much of the time. As noise levels rise, hearing loss affects more of us- even the young. Early diagnosis is vital.