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The Process of Hearing

Professional Hearing Care Center is dedicated to providing ongoing community education as well as hearing aid solutions to accommodate hearing loss.

Our ears work to transform the acoustic stimulus that travels down our ear canals into the type of neural code that our brains can recognize, process, and understand.

The brain and the relay stations along the central auditory pathways can extract not only the pitch and loudness features but also as other critical attributes such as temporal features (timing) and different cues from each ear. Features of the sound stimulus can be extracted, enhanced, and modulated and this information can be compared separately from each ear or combined into a single perception. These features can be compared to other acoustic patterns that are stored in the brain, perhaps for the recognition of the voice of a family member or friend, or they can be the initial experience with a new sound or a new voice.

Our hearing systems anchor us to the soundscapes of our environment with an incredible ability to detect and differentiate infinitesimally small acoustic cues. Our brains store the neural equivalents of acoustic patterns—voices, music, environmental sounds, danger signals—that make it easier to process and recognize both familiar and unfamiliar signals. Hearing loss misleads our brain with a loss of audibility (sounds are softer, not as loud) as well as distortion of the information that reaches the brain. Changes in the effectiveness of the brain to process stimuli, through head trauma, neurologic disease or disorder, or the naturally occurring process of aging, can result in symptoms that mimic hearing loss—inattention, inappropriate responses, confusion, a disconnect from those around us, for example. The ears and the brain combine in a truly remarkable way to process neural events into the sense of hearing and all that it encompasses. Perhaps it’s fair to say that we “hear” with our brain, not with our ears!

Information courtesy of the Better Hearing Institute