How Hearing Works

How Does Hearing Work

Hearing is an amazing and rather complex process. We often take it for granted. Hearing gives us the ability to understand the sounds of our environment, such as your alarm clock that wakes you up in the morning, the melody of your favorite music, a dog barking or a car horn blaring in traffic. Not only that but hearing also gives us the ability to understand the sounds of speech. Hearing speech sounds is actually the first step to being able to produce speech. Without hearing, speech production becomes a difficult task and often, a very labored skill.

How Hearing Works
Ear Anatomy

Dem Bones, Dem Bones….

So how does hearing work? When you hear a sound like your alarm clock in the morning, the sound creates waves in the air that travel through the opening of your outer ear which then causes your eardrum to vibrate. Your eardrum is actually connected to three small bones. Write this down – there will be a quiz later! 🙂 Now, I know it’s not in the song. I know “Dem Bones” song stops at the head bone. Maybe if the lyricist had not been so lazy and would have finished the connections, you would have known that the head bone is connected to the malleus bone. The malleus bone is connected to the incus bone. The incus bone is connected to the stapes bone. Can you hear the song in your head now?

Sound Becomes Hearing

Now, here is where it gets a little twisted… well, circular anyway. The stapes bone is connected to a tiny, hairy snail inside your head bone called the cochlea (see the picture above). There is fluid inside the cochlea that, when stimulated by the stapes bone, carries the vibration of the sound waves to millions of microscopic hair cells. The hair cells are connected to your hearing (auditory) nerve. The hair cells wriggle back and forth to create an electrical current in the auditory nerve. The sound wave is now an electrical current that runs across the auditory nerve like electricity across a wire. This current sends the sound, using nerve impulses, to your brain, where it is processed and interpreted. Your brain is then able to tell you what sound you are hearing. Whether you alarm clock is waking you up to an annoying buzzer or to the smooth jazz sounds of Kenny G., the process is the same and your brain interprets the sound.

This is a huge, hopefully humorous, over-simplification of the process of turning sounds into hearing. However, I hope that this article does two things for you.

  1. I hope you have a somewhat better understanding of the amazingly complex nature of hearing that we all take for granted.
  2. I hope you realize that this amazingly complex process of hearing is the stamp of an even more amazing Creator.

In future articles, we will discuss how this process of normal hearing can become damaged or interfered with to produce hearing loss and deafness. We will discuss more about Michael’s deafness and what hearing aids and cochlear implants are designed to do. This basic article about how hearing works will also give you a foundation of understanding for those future posts.

Now, for those of you who can’t get the song out of your head (Mom), start writing the lyrics for “Dem Bones” in the comments below. The first person to get them correct without first watching the video link above, will win… a special place in our heart! 🙂

If you liked this article or found it helpful, please feel free to share it on Facebook or in an email. Thanks!

Seeing Life Differently,

Brent

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