How do ears hear?

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Ear1You may not live near an ocean, but waves are crashing into you every day. They’re sound waves, and when they hit your ears an amazing chain reaction happens.

Your outer ears act like satellite dishes, catching sounds and funneling them into the ear canal. The sound waves are amplified by the canal’s funnel-like shape. They hit the eardrum and cause vibrations, which in turn move the ossicles, the three tiniest bones in your body. You may know them by their more common names: the hammer, anvil, and stirrup. The ossicles convey the vibrations through the middle ear to the “oval window,” the membrane between the middle and inner ear.

The spiral-shaped inner ear is called the cochlea. It’s lined with thousands of microscopic hair cells that convert sound energy into electrical signals. These signals travel on nerve pathways to the brain where they are finally interpreted. It’s important to know that if these hair cells are damaged by loud or prolonged noise, they can’t be repaired. Make sure to protect yourself from excessive sound so you can hear well for years to come.