• Question: Could you make people hear again?

    Asked by push366ham to Sarah on 22 Nov 2019.
    • Photo: Sarah Knight

      Sarah Knight answered on 22 Nov 2019:

      This is an excellent question! The answer is…yes and no. The human ear is a very delicate and complicated system — it goes much deeper than the bit you can see on the outside of your head. Just to quickly explain: sound is vibrations in the air. These vibrations travel down our ear canal (the tube which connects the outside world to our ear drum). The ear drum then vibrates, and this passes the vibrations to 3 tiny bones (the smallest in the body!). These bones then pass the vibrations into a chamber full of fluid, which is curled up like a snail! There are some tiny, delicate hairs in the fluid, and the vibrations make these hairs shake. And when the hairs shake, that sends an electrical signal to the brain, which is interpreted as sound. Amazing, huh?!

      If this system gets damaged (for example, if the tiny hairs get damaged), then no — it’s too delicate and complicated for us to fix 🙁

      However, it is possible to give people *some* hearing back using cochlear implants. These are little devices which are put inside your ear through surgery. They pick up the sounds from the outside world and then directly transmit electrical signals to the brain. But they can’t pick up the full range of sound that a healthy ear can hear, so although they *do* help people to hear speech, sound and music, they can never give back perfect hearing. People are working very hard to make them better, though!