Auditory System

Overview: The Human Auditory System Image

In the human body, the system responsible for taking in sound from the environment is known as the “auditory system.” The human auditory system is made up of the group of structures used in the process of hearing sound. This includes structures all the way from the outer ear to the brain’s auditory cortex.

Some of the ear’s structures are also involved in the vestibular system, which helps the body maintain balance. The auditory system can experience problems and breakdowns at any level, but many options are available to individuals with these auditory problems.

Anatomy of the Auditory System

The hearing structures of the ear are divided into three parts:

  • The outer ear consists of the external ear structure, called the pinna, and the external ear canal.
  • The middle ear contains the tympanic membrane, or eardrum, and three small bones known as the ossicles.
  • The inner ear contains the cochlea and connected bony structures, called the “semicircular canals.”

These structures work together to transmit sound from outside the ear to the auditory nerve, which send the information as an electrical impulse to the brain, where it can be processed and assigned meaning.

The Human Auditory System

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a reduction in the ear’s ability to transmit or process sound. Problems in any part of the auditory system can lead to hearing loss. Hearing loss can range from mild to profound, and also includes deafness. Deafness is the absence of functional hearing. People who are deaf may be able to detect some sounds, but they are unlikely to be able to use sound alone as a component of the learning system. Also, they may not have the means for understanding and identifying auditory input, especially speech.

Many diseases and conditions can cause or contribute to hearing loss, including:

  • Aging
  • Certain drugs
  • Congenital diseases
  • Infection
  • Injury
  • Noise exposure.

These conditions damage different components of the auditory system. They can cause varying degrees of hearing loss that can be temporary or permanent, sudden or progressive.

Solutions for Hard of Hearing Individuals

Even mild hearing loss can have a significant impact on a person’s life. However, individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing have many options for hearing and communication. Individuals with hearing loss may choose to use hearing aids or other amplification devices. Other individuals choose to have a cochlear implant, which helps the hearing system transmit sound signals to the brain. People with profound hearing loss may choose to communicate manually (with a system such as American Sign Language), or to use speech and speechreading training to communicate orally.


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). The causes of hearing loss in adults. Retrieved January 27, 2010, from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Web site:

Martin, F.M.