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Hearing & Balance Explained

Sound waves enter the outer ear and travel through the ear canal to the eardrum. The eardrum vibrates from the incoming sound waves and sends these vibrations to three tiny bones in the middle ear called the malleus, incus, and stapes. These bones amplify the vibrations and transmit them to the inner ear. The inner ear contains the cochlea, which is filled with fluid and lined with hair cells that convert the vibrations into electrical signals that are sent to the brain via the auditory nerve. The brain then interprets these signals as sound.

The pinna, the visible portion of the outer ear, filters and amplifies sound waves as they enter the ear canal, helping us to localize sounds and distinguish between different frequencies and volumes. The cochlea in the inner ear is shaped like a spiral and contains different sections that respond to different frequencies, allowing us to perceive different pitches of sound.

The human ear is most sensitive to and most easily detects frequencies of 1,000 to 4,000 hertz, but the entire audible range of sounds extends from about 20 to 20,000 hertz. The range of human hearing can vary from person to person, and it can also change with age and exposure to loud noise.

Human hearing and balance are closely related functions that are both controlled by the inner ear. The vestibular system is responsible for maintaining balance, while the cochlea is responsible for hearing. The vestibulocochlear nerve connects both systems to the brain, and the division between the two is direct.

The vestibular system is a sensory apparatus located in the inner ear that helps the body maintain postural equilibrium and coordinate the position of the head and the movement of the eyes. The vestibular system consists of the utricle, saccule, and the semicircular canals that contain fluid and hairlike sensors that help maintain balance. The utricle and saccule are located at the base of the canals and contain sensory hair cells.

On the other hand, the cochlea is responsible for detecting and analyzing sound by converting sound waves into electrochemical impulses, which are then interpreted by the brain. Hearing loss is a natural part of the aging process and can occur independently or in combination with other systems in the body, while balance disorders occur due to issues in the inner ear. However, depending on the underlying cause, hearing loss and balance disorders may be related or occur separately from one another.

In summary, human hearing and balance are closely related functions controlled by the inner ear. The vestibular system is responsible for maintaining balance, while the cochlea is responsible for hearing. The vestibulocochlear nerve connects both systems to the brain, and while hearing loss and balance disorders may occur independently or together, they are related to the inner ear.

The Importance of Well Hearing

Hearing is precious as 40% of the information provided by our senses is auditory in origin. Not only that, it also helps us to orient ourselves in relation to sound sources, allowing us to understand the environment around us.

In every part of the communication process, hearing acts as a sound filter, working in passive mode when unimportant background noise is present so we can focus on other things without overburdening our brain.

Without noticing it, our hearing reverts back to its active mode as soon as important information, such as speech, car noise or the sound of a ringing phone, reaches us. Hygiene (keeping our ears clean, dealing with earwax) is very important to ensure that our hearing function remains optimal.

Hearing and Balance

Ears have another important function aside from hearing: balance. Within the inner ear are three ringed canals containing fluid. The link between hearing and balance is determined by the posterior, lateral and anterior canals in the ear, which operate on different planes (think of measuring a box: it has length, depth and width), with the movement of the fluid in these canals helping the brain to establish balance.

The continued movement of these fluids is why people feel dizzy after spinning around, before returning to normal once the fluid settles again. Ear infections and medical conditions which reach the ear can also, therefore, affect balance as well as hearing.

Understanding Sounds and Communicating

Our hearing is, above all else, the most important sense used for communication. It is essential for language learning, meaning that hearing problems in babies and children can have a greater impact on their development, affecting the way they interact with the world around them.

Hearing can decode and reproduce the intonations, rhythms and accentuation of a heard sentence. Each sound, each string of sounds and each variation is as much a form of information to us as it is to the person communicating with us. By analyzing this information, hearing allows us to respond in the most appropriate way using what our auditory system and brain have learned.

Ear Wax and Protection

Everyone has ear wax and it is common to have a build up making it hard to hear properly. Although this can be easily removed, it can happen time and time again, causing hearing loss or affecting the performance of existing hearing aids.

How Can I Improve My Hearing?

It is important to be aware of how the ear works and to identify the situations in which you have difficulty hearing, speaking to a friend or family member as they may be able to give you advice and support, and they might even notice changes in your hearing or behavior that you haven’t.

Perhaps the easiest and best way to protect your hearing is to reassure yourself with our expert advice and support. At Hearing Paradise, we have the experience and understanding of how the ear works. Our expert audiologists are dedicated to helping you rediscover what it is like to hear well. Book an appointment  today.

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