Your brain is just as important as your ears in the hearing process. You experience sound via the brain harnessing sound waves, which enter through the ears. The brain translates the sound waves into music, words, and other noises. But how does the process really work?
Steering sound to the brain
Steering sound to the brain, ears are complex pathways that capture, process, and transmit sound. The outer ear helps send sound into the ear canal until it gets to the eardrum. The eardrum then vibrates from the sound. Vibrations go through the three tiny bones in the middle ear, which raise the vibrations and push them into the inner ear. When getting to the cochlea, tiny hair cells react to the vibrations and make them become electrical signals, which are captured by the auditory nerve. At this point, the brain is in charge and the process of hearing really begins.
The brain’s role
Vibrations are sent from the auditory nerve in each ear to the cochlea nucleus, one of two clusters in the brain stem. The cochlear nuclei process the sound information gathered and organize it according to duration, intensity, and pitch. Based on how each sound is arranged, they’re sent to different parts of the brain for more processing and interpretation. At the base of the brain is the thalamus, which also aids in processing sound. Here, sound is further scrutinized to determine if there is any danger in what’s heard, like screams for help or an alarm. Such sounds trigger the fight or flight response. Then, the next destination is the auditory cortex. It enables us to understand conversations by processing individual syllables and words. In essence, it processes speech. Another function of the auditory cortex is to identify and recognize other sounds, such as musical instruments. It also determines volume and directionality. Other parts of the brain are also instrumental in processing sound. The prefrontal cortex gives sound meaning, by adding context from the facial expressions, tone, and words of other people.
Hearing loss diminishes the process of the brain turning vibrations, which enter through the ears, into recognizable sounds. Left untreated, hearing loss causes sound to become garbled, muddled, or meaningless. However, hearing aids can help correct this problem.
If you think you need hearing aids, contact your hearing instrument specialist at Pure Sound Hearing Aids.