How do we hear?

Hearing is a complex process, developed before we’re born.  Did you know that babies can hear and respond to sound in the womb?  And that when they’re born they respond to the sounds of their mother’s native language more than sounds of other languages?  It’s true!

The ear is divided into three parts, each with a special function in the hearing process:

  • Outer ear – the ear canal and the eardrum.  Sound travels through the ear canal and makes the eardrum vibrate.
  • Middle ear – this is where the three smallest bones in your body are located.  The vibration of the eardrum causes vibration of these bones, which moves the fluid in your inner ear.
  • Inner ear – the moving fluid in your inner ear stimulates hair cells sending electronic signals to the hearing (auditory) nerve which leads to the brain.

Our body turns mechanical energy into electrical energy.  It’s pretty amazing.

How do you test hearing?

Depending on which state you live in, most newborns have their hearing screened before they leave the hospital.  It is painless and fairly quick.  Their hearing is screened in one of two ways:

  • Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR) – earphones are placed on the ears and three electrodes on the head.  A series of sounds are played through the earphones and the electrodes measure the response of the hearing nerve.
    This is a picture of my son, Surya, getting his AABR screening when he was born back in 2012.

    This is a picture of my son, Surya, getting his AABR screening at Rose Medical Center in Denver back in 2012.

  • Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) – a probe is placed inside the ear canal and the device measures the response when sounds are played.

How does hearing loss affect my child’s language development?

The following are potential effects of an undiagnosed and unaddressed hearing loss:

  • Delay in the development of speech and language skills
  • Language delay may lead to difficulties learning
  • Language delay and learning difficulties can lead to social isolation
  • All of the above may eventually affect job opportunities and job choice

Specific effects on language include:

  • Decreased vocabulary size
  • Decreased comprehension and production of complex sentence structure
  • Difficulty producing certain sounds
  • Reduced academic achievement
  • Social isolation

What should I do if I suspect my child has a hearing loss?

  • See an audiologist as soon as possible to develop the best intervention program to maximize hearing.
  • Your local speech-language pathologist can refer you to a reputable audiologist.

As always, please contact us if you’re concerned about your child’s hearing, speech, or language development.  We are always happy to help!



How We Hear

Hearing Screening and Testing

Early Hearing Detection & Intervention (EDHI) Legislation: Overview

Purpose of Newborn Hearing Screening

Effects of Hearing Loss on Development