Posted on Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Your Ears Talk to Each Other

Fox with ears raised

You ears work together to do more than just hear. They talk to each other, so they can categorize sounds, lower interfering sounds, focus on essential sounds, and determine where a sound is coming from. The system your ears use to communicate all of this is called the olivocochlear system. And for years scientist have been trying to unravel its mysteries.

Your ears work in tandem to create bilateral hearing, two ear hearing. This bilateral hearing means your ears can speak with each other and the brain to tell important things like where a sound is coming from and even estimate how far away it is. A loud sound first noticed by one ear can send an alert to instantly lower the hearing of your other ear as protection against hearing loss. Pretty cool, huh? Scientist have long wondered about the exact mechanism that our ears use to communicate with each other ear. Do they have a secret cell phone service? Are they using text messages? Well, no. That would be ridiculous.

It turns out a small group of auditory nerve fibers handle the messages on which communications between our ears depend. These unassuming nerve fibers carry the message from one ear's tiny and sensitive hearing hair cells to the other via the brain. Mice without these bundle of nerves were unable to share information between ears. According to an article on Science Daily, "In mice lacking the sensory fibre connection to the cochlear outer hair cells, loud sound presented to one ear had no effect on hearing sensitivity in the other ear."

People who have hearing loss in one ear are well aware of the problems that this can create--with balance, locating sounds, and discerning sounds. That's one of the reasons research into this system is so important. With the new information that scientist have about how these nerve fibers work, they can create better hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Of course, science has already produce some of the most amazing hearing technologies around. And if you have unilateral hearing loss, you should check out this article on CROS and BiCROS hearing aids!

University of New South Wales. "How the brain balances hearing between our ears." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150512124134.htm (accessed October 13, 2015).

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