Miracle-Ear – Anatomy of the Ear and Hearing Loss

Understanding the anatomy of your ear and
how it works can help you better understand hearing. Our ears are comprised of three parts:
the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Each part plays a very important role
in how we hear sound. Think of sound as a series of vibrations.
These vibrations are similar to the ripples or waves that are made when you throw a stone
into the water, but unlike the water waves, they are invisible and travel in all directions
around you. These waves are captured by the pinna. It is similar to a catcher’s mitt.
The sound vibrates down the ear canal to the ear drum, which begins to vibrate. The sound
then passes through the three bones in the middle ear cavity, which are the malleus,
incus, and stapes. These are the smallest bones in the human body. You may remember
them in school as the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. Now the sound goes through yet another window,
and enters the cochlea. The cochlea is a snail-shaped organ about the size of an aspirin. If you
could unwind the cochlea, you would see approximately 20,000 sensory cells commonly referred to
as “hair cells.” As the sound goes through the cochlea, it moves the fluid which moves
the hair cells, sending thousands of elecrical impulses up the auditory nerve to the opposing
side of the brain. What you hear on your left ear is primarily processed through the right
brain hemisphere. What you hear on your right ear is processed through the left brain hemisphere. Hearing Loss can occur anywhere along this
path. There are two kinds of hearing loss. A Conductive loss is when the sound can’t
get to the cochlea for the nerves to do their job. Common types of Conductive loss include
excessive cerumen, or wax buildup, foreign object in the outer ear, perforation or tear
of the ear drum, or excessive fluid buildup in the middle ear. Most of these hearing losses
have medical or surgical treatments. The second and most common type of adult hearing
loss is Sensorineural Hearing Loss, which can be caused by noise damage, the aging process,
or other environmental factors. This type of hearing loss is a result to damage to the
inner ear. In a damaged cochlea, hair cells are broken or gone, and can therefore no longer
pick up sound or transmit it to the brain. Typically, the hair cells tuned to high pitches
become damaged first, because they are the first to encounter sound waves. Think of it this way: You have a ten-story
building with steps between the floors. What steps will get worn out first? Probably the
first few floors. Hearing Aids are the only course of action to help you with this type
of hearing problem. Hearing aids will not slow the progression, and will not cure you
of the loss, but will help serve you to better hear and understand, and with long term use,
are proven to help maintain critical speech recognition skills. A thorough hearing evaluation
will help us to assess your hearing needs.


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