How Hearing Works

The ear controls hearing and balance, and is made up of three parts:  the outer, middle, and inner ear. All three parts of the ear are important for detecting sound–they work together to move sound from the outer part through the middle, and into the inner part of the ear.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, the hearing process is explained as follows:  

The ear picks up sound waves and transforms them into electrical signals which travel along nerves to the brain. The signals are “decoded” and interpreted by the brain. The sound may then be perceived as loud, quiet, speech, music or a message such as “the phone is ringing.”

The ear has three parts:

Sound waves reaching the outer ear cause the eardrum to vibrate. The vibrations are passed on from the middle ear to the inner ear. This is where the actual organ of hearing, the cochlea, is found. Fine hair cells in the cochlea play an important role in converting the sound waves into electrical signals. The organ of balance is also found in the inner ear.


Menche N. (ed.) Biologie Anatomie Physiologie. Munich: Urban & Fischer/ Elsevier; 2012.

Pschyrembel W. Klinisches Wörterbuch. Berlin: De Gruyter; 2014.
Schmidt R, Lang F, Heckmann M. Physiologie des Menschen: mit Pathophysiologie. Heidelberg: Springer; 2011.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

The following graphic shows you the three distinct parts of the ear. Click on all views to learn about the anatomy of the ear.

How Hearing Works

To summarize it all, check out this video on how hearing works.

Protect Your Hearing

Your hearing is a priceless commodity, so take care of it.  Here are some thing you can do to protect your hearing.

  • Turn the Volume Down When Listening to Music or Watching TV
  • Avoid Prolonged Exposure to Loud Noises
  • Wear Protective Hearing Devices (i.e., Earplugs, Earmuffs) in Noisy Environments
  • Get Your Hearing Checked Regularly
  • Use a Washcloth to Clean Your Ears (Avoid Using Cotton Swabs)
  • See a Professional to Remove Excess or Impacted Earwax

If you notice any changes to your hearing, contact Infinity Hearing at (207) 451-2700 to make an appointment with Dr. Matthew Lewandowski, Au.D. He will perform a  comprehensive hearing evaluation for you, and make treatment recommendations that best meet your needs and lifestyle.  To learn more about Infinity Hearing, please browse our website.  You can also schedule an appointment online.