Ears are the doorway to the brain

We’re accustomed to thinking that we hear with our ears, but in fact, we hear with our brain.1 The ear is the structure that captures raw sound from the environment and directs it to the brain, where auditory information is processed and given meaning. As such, our ears can be thought of as “doorways” to the brain, where hearing truly occurs. 

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Children with a hearing loss have a “doorway issue”. Any impairment, whether mild or profound, unilateral or bilateral, means that sound cannot get through the doorway of the ear and reach the brain as it should.

How sounds reach the brain – the ears

Your child’s ears are unique. Even the left and right ear are different in shape and size. The ear has three main parts: the outer, middle, and inner ear.

Sound is captured by the outer ear and travels down the ear canal to the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. The vibrations are passed to the small bones of the middle ear, which increase the loudness of the sounds before they reach the inner ear. In the inner ear, small hair cells move and release a chemical telling the hearing nerve to send an electric signal to the brain. When the electrical signal reaches the brain it is translated into meaningful sound.

Anatomy of the ear

Where meaning is made from sounds – the brain

In the first few years of life, brain development is rapid and complex, and every new experience taken in by a child’s senses creates connections and neural pathways. Repetition is essential for strengthening these pathways, and in the case of hearing, repeating words and sounds helps develop a child’s brain.

For children with hearing loss, sounds do not reach the brain as they should, which is why it’s important to take action to address hearing loss at an early age. The purpose of the technology behind devices such as hearing aids and wireless microphones, is to successfully deliver auditory information to the brain by opening blocked doorways. As such, we like to think of hearing technologies as door-opening devices.

Reference

1 Flexer, Carol (2018). The ears are doorways to the brain. Phonak Insight, retrieved from www.phonakpro.com/evidence, accessed February 19th, 2018.