How hearing works

Understanding the inner workings of the ear and brain make it easier to see how and why the professionals at HearingLife treat hearing loss. Your ears and brain collaborate not just so you can hear, but to judge which sounds are important. Your ears also play a key role in balance and in providing your brain a "lay of the land" and spatial relations.

Your brain and ears collaborate to hear

Your brain filters out a flood of irrelevant sounds so you can concentrate on the information you want. So, whether you are at a restaurant, in a crowded mall or have the television on in the background as you talk on the phone, your brain is working to prioritize incoming sounds.

A healthy hearing system recognizes low-frequency sounds like a double bass, high-frequency sounds like birds singing and everything in between. Your brain needs to process all volumes, from very quiet sounds like a mosquito to extremely loud noises, like a jet airplane. The brain uses sound to orient you when you enter a new space and in alerting you to danger.

The hearing process

Turning sound vibrations into information your brain can process

The ear is a complicated environment with three main parts: The outer ear, including the auditory canal, the middle ear and the inner ear. Each part plays its own role in turning sound waves into nerve stimuli. Whether you are awake or asleep, your ears are constantly active, working in tandem with your brain to keep you informed of the world around you.
How hearing works

Sound waves cause fluid in the snail-shaped cochlea to move, and this movement is picked up by the sensory cells, which send electrical impulses to your brain. Deep in the inner ear, the fluid-filled cochlea houses thousands of nerve-hearing “hair” cells. It is here that vibrations get transformed into neurological signals that present sound information to the auditory nerve. Sound waves move the hair cells, which pass messages to the brain’s auditory cortex.

How hearing works

As sound waves are transferred from the eardrum into the middle ear, three small bones, the ossicles, amplify noise. The ossicles consist of the malleus (the “hammer”), the incus (the “anvil”) and the stapes (the “stirrups”). These small bones work in tandem to transfer sounds into the inner ear.

How hearing works

Sound waves cause fluid in the snail-shaped cochlea to move, and this movement is picked up by the sensory cells, which send electrical impulses to your brain. Deep in the inner ear, the fluid-filled cochlea houses thousands of nerve-hearing “hair” cells. It is here that vibrations get transformed into neurological signals that present sound information to the auditory nerve. Sound waves move the hair cells, which pass messages to the brain’s auditory cortex.

How hearing works

Once impulses are sent to the brain, it processes the data so that we can decide what is relevant in this particular situation and act upon it. The auditory cortex, located in the temporal lobe, sorts out and interprets the sounds your ears detect. When you have hearing loss, the sound signals that your brain normally should receive from your ears are compromised and can impact you in more ways than just not hearing well. 

When your brain doesn't receive sound signals, it results in hearing loss. Hearing loss ranges from slight hearing loss at a range of 15-25 dB to profound hearing loss, which ranges above 91 dB HL.1

There are several types of hearing loss, including sensorineural, conductive and congenital. No matter which type you may have, we will help you identify options. HearingLife offers a wide range of hearing aids for mild, moderate or severe hearing loss, and our hearing care professionals have in-depth product knowledge to assist you in identifying what's best for your needs.

Learn about hearing loss

Protect your hearing

Take good care of your hearing by protecting your ears in these situations – or avoiding them completely.

  • How hearing works

    Background noise

    Too loud to hear the person next to you? Step outside for a quick sound break.

  • How hearing works

    Industrial noise 

    Wear protection when you are at a repair shop, factory or similar environment. 

  • How hearing works

    Live music 

    Exposure to loud music, especially over time, contributes to hearing loss.

Request a Free Hearing Assessment*

Please provide the following information so we can call you back
*
*
*
*
*
US-map

Find a HearingLife
location near you

Locations