How Does the Ear Work?

It’s easy to think of your ears as simple tools that “absorb” the sounds around you, but the fact is, the ears are much more complex than they first appear. Also, the way they function to enable you to hear is equally complex.

To understand the anatomy of the ear and how the ear functions to enable you to hear and identify a wide array of noises, it helps to consider the ear’s three distinct anatomical “regions”:

The Outer Ear

The outer ear is also called the auricle or pinnacle, and it comprises the exterior visible portion of the ear.


The primary function of the outer ear is to gather sound from different sources and different directions, collecting sound waves so they can be transported into the middle ear. Sounds enter the ear through an opening called the auditory meatus, traveling through the ear canal to the middle ear.

The Middle Ear

The middle ear contains the eardrum, located at the end of the ear canal. When sound waves reach the eardrum, they cause it to vibrate. Those tiny vibrations are picked up by three very tiny bones – the tiniest bones in the body – called the hammer, the anvil and the stirrup for their distinctive appearances. (Malleus, incus and stapes are their medical names.)

These tiny bones amplify sound waves so they can be delivered to structures of the inner ear without any loss in sound quality.

The Inner Ear

Once in the inner ear, the sound waves enter the cochlea, a winding structure shaped very much like a snail shell. The cochlea contains fluid separated by membranes that form different chambers.

These membranes also form the base for special cells called hair cells. Hair cells are responsible for detecting and transmitting high and low pitches to the auditory nerve, which sends those signals to the brain for interpretation.

As the sound waves enter the cochlea, they create ripples in the fluid, causing the membranes and the hair cells that rest on them to move up and down and bend.

This bending action opens up tiny channels in the hair cells, releasing chemicals cause electrical signals that can be picked up by the auditory nerve.

The fluid in the inner ear also helps us maintain our sense of balance and spatial orientation. Infections or other damage in this part of the ear frequently cause sensations of dizziness or vertigo.

Are you experiencing hearing loss?

Different types of hearing loss occur for different reasons, and depending on the cause, different structures of the ear may be involved.

If you’re experiencing any type of hearing loss, having your hearing evaluated in the first and most important step in ensuring you receive the best and most appropriate treatment.

At Beltone, we’re proud to provide residents of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi with free hearing tests using the most advanced diagnostic equipment to determine the cause of hearing loss so we can provide custom-tailored solutions for your needs and your lifestyle.

Requesting a free hearing test at any one of our 27 Alabama, Georgia or Mississippi locations couldn’t be simpler: Just call Beltone toll-free at (888) 210-5846 today or use our online form to request an appointment.

We can even schedule a free hearing test in your home if visiting one of our centers isn’t convenient.