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How does hearing work?

Photo to illustrate How does hearing work?

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The human body functions through senses. The senses enable humans to see, hear, feel, taste and smell. All of these senses together ensure optimal functioning so that humans can function well in society. When one of these senses is damaged, man has a limitation and can no longer function optimally. The auditory system is one of the senses. Hearing allows people to communicate with each other and perceive sounds. Without us realizing it, the hearing system consists of an ingenious construction that allows us to recognize sounds. How exactly does hearing work? We are going to explain that in this blog.


Sound consists of sound waves coming from a sound source. The sound source causes a change in air pressure through the sound waves. These sound waves travel through the air and can be picked up by the hearing system. The auditory system causes the sound waves to be directed to the brain and converted into sounds familiar to us. When the sound waves are very minimal, it produces a very soft sound that can hardly be picked up by the hearing system. On average, the human ear can absorb about 120 decibels without damage. Above that, pain to the ears will also be experienced.

How does hearing work?

On the outside, in humans we see only the auricle. The actual process of hearing takes place in the ear and in the brain. The sound waves pass through all kinds of parts before it can only be interpreted by the brain into sounds known to us. In the ear, there are three different parts through which the sound waves pass. These are the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. A process takes place in each part, which eventually converts the sound waves into sound.

The outer ear

The outer ear consists of the auricle, the only visible part of the ear, the external auditory canal and the eardrum. The scientific name for auricle is pinna. The auricle is a kind of funnel that can trap sound waves. The sound waves then pass through the ear canal and reach the eardrum. The ear canal has a protective function. This is where dirt and dust is collected so that it cannot reach the eardrum. The eardrum is a very sensitive organ and the ear canal ensures that the eardrum is protected from cold and dehydration.

The middle ear

The middle ear consists of the Eustachian tube and some bones, namely the hammer, anvil and stirrup. These three bones are the smallest bones in the human body. Once the sound waves have reached the eardrum, the eardrum will begin to transmit the vibrations of the sound waves to these bones. Here the vibrations are amplified and converted into mechanical vibrations. Then these vibrations are transmitted to the inner ear. The Eustachian tube also has a function. Namely, this tube is in contact with the nasal cavity and pharynx and ensures that the pressure on the eardrums remains the same on both sides.

The inner ear

The inner ear consists of the cochlea which in turn is connected to the auditory nerve. The mechanical vibrations transmitted by the hammer, anvil and stirrup to the inner ear enter the cochlea. The cochlea is filled with a fluid that is set in motion by the vibrations. Because the walls on the inside of the cochlea are covered with hair cells, these cells also get moving. At the end of these cells is a nerve ending. The nerve endings pick up the vibrations and direct it to the auditory nerve. From here this goes to the brain, converting the vibrations into a sound we can understand.

Problems with hearing

You see sound has to travel quite a long distance before we can take it in. This can cause problems with the transmission of sound waves or vibrations along the way. When this happens then you suffer from hearing impairment. Hearing impairment can occur at birth due to an abnormality in the hearing system, but in most cases you will suffer from hearing impairment in old age. This also makes perfect sense because the functions of the body diminish as you age due to wear and tear, and this is also true of the hearing system.

Overuse can also cause damage. This type of damage can be easily prevented by wearing hearing protection when present in areas with loud noises. Repairing hearing damage, especially wear and tear, is usually not possible. However, there are very good aids, such as a hearing aid, so that you can hear well despite your hearing damage.

Hearing protection

Of course, the question is not only how does hearing work, but also "how can I best protect my hearing?" In that case, custom-made earplugs are a godsend. Check out our offer here.


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