How We Hear

The ears and the brain work together as a system to organize your world of sounds. Picking up the sound starts with both your ears. Being familiar with how the ear works will better prepare you for your visit to a hearing health care specialist at Nilsson Hearing Center and understanding the options they have for your particular loss.

Anatomy of the Ear


earAnatomy How We Hear

How Sounds Travel Through the Ear

The anatomy of the ear is precisely shaped to capture sound waves and amplify them. When sound waves enter the ear they follow what might seem like a long and arduous path. But every ‘station’ has a precise function. This is how it works:

1 How We Hear

Sound waves are picked up by the outer ear, which is made up of the pinna and the ear canal.

2 How We Hear

Sound is channeled to the eardrum, which vibrates when the sound waves touch it.

3 How We Hear

The vibrations are picked up by three tiny bones known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup, which create a bridge from the eardrum to the inner ear.

4 How We Hear

The vibrations move on to the cochlea – a spiral-shaped capsule housing a system of fluid-filled tubes.

5 How We Hear

When the sound waves reach the fluid it begins to move, setting thousands of tiny hair cells in motion.

6 How We Hear

The movements of the hair cells are transformed into electric impulses that travel along the auditory nerve to the brain itself.

7 How We Hear

The brain decodes and interprets the electronic impulses, turning a stream of speech into separate, recognizable words.


Hearing with Your Brain

A child is calling from across the street.
Someone is knocking at the door.
A car is honking its horn.

In situations like these how do you know what these sounds are or which way to look? The world of sound is rich and complex. Humans have an amazing ability to sort through rapidly changing information and automatically make sense of what is happening.

Think of your hearing as a system-your two ears and your brain-constantly taking in a wide variety of cues. Our hearing system can automatically, unconsciously and effortlessly identify sounds and locate where they are coming from. Actually it is accurate to think of your brain as the center of hearing and listening.

To interpret sounds correctly, the information your brain receives must be as accurate and as detailed as possible.

Hearing with Two Ears – Makes Conversation Easier

When we are listening in challenging environments, locating where sound is coming from is what makes it work. We mentally locate sounds in specific positions and then focus on what’s important.

Sounds reach one ear fractionally faster and louder than the other- and the brain registers these subtle differences. When hearing is normal, the ears are balanced and so is the sound picture.

Using Both Ears Keeps them “In Shape”

If you have a hearing loss in both ears but decide only to wear one instrument in the ear that needs it the most, the ear that is deprived of stimulation might get even lazier. This condition is known as “auditory deprivation“, and the only way to combat it is by keeping both ears active.

Very often the hearing health care specialist will recommend two hearing instruments. This is known as a “binaural” fitting. The reason being, when sound is provided to both ears the brain functions more as nature intended.

Click here for the signs, symptoms, and different types of hearing loss one may encounter.