Hearing is a very complex process that involves the ear collecting sound information and sending it to the brain where it is interpreted.
There are three main sections of the ear
Outer ear : The outer ear is made up of the portion of the ear we see (the pinna) and the ear canal. The outer ear gathers sound and funnels it to the eardrum (tympanic membrane).
Middle ear : The middle ear is made up of the eardrum and three tiny connected bones (ossicles). The bones are called the malleus, incus and the stapes, but are often referred to as the hammer, anvil and stirrup. When sound comes into the outer ear through the ear canal, it travels to the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. This vibration puts the middle ear bones into motion.
Inner ear: The inner ear is made up of the snail-shaped cochlea and auditory nerve. The middle ear vibrations end at the opening of the cochlea, where the stapes (stirrup) pushes on the oval window of the inner ear forcing the fluid inside the cochlea to move over tiny hair cells (cilia). Once stimulated the hair cells send electric impulses to the auditory nerve, which connects to the brain. The brain then takes these impulses from the auditory nerve and interprets them as sounds.
If any part of the outer, middle or inner ear isn't working correctly, you can experience hearing loss.
If you or a loved one has hearing loss or want to learn more about the types and causes of hearing loss, you may find our section titled 'Understanding Hearing Loss' useful.