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To understand hearing loss, it helps to understand how we hear. Your ear is an amazing organ that, very simply put, turns sound waves in the air into information in your brain. It can perceive sounds from barely audible to very loud, differentiate their loudness and distance, and pinpoint the direction of a sound source to an amazing degree of accuracy!
The outer ear:
consists of the visible part of the ear, also called the auricle, and the ear canal. What we call 'noises' are actually just 'sound waves', which are transmitted by the air. Sound waves are collected and guided through the ear canal to the eardrum. The eardrum is a flexible, circular membrane that vibrates when sound waves strike it.
The middle ear:
is an air-filled space separated from the outer ear by the eardrum, or the tympanic (pronounced: tim-`pa-nik) membrane. In the middle ear are three tiny bones: malleus, incus, and stapes, often referred to as the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup. They are collectively known as the ossicles. These form a bridge from the eardrum to the inner ear. The ossicles also vibrate in response to movements of the eardrum and in doing so, amplify and relay the sound to the inner ear via the oval window.
The inner ear:
referred to as the cochlea (pronounced: kohk-le-a), is similar in shape to a snail shell. It contains several membranous sections filled with fluids. When the ossicles conduct sound to the oval window, the fluid begins to move, thus stimulating the minute hearing nerve cells, called hair cells, inside the cochlea. These hair cells in turn send electrical impulses via the auditory nerve to the brain where it will be interpreted as sound.
Hearing loss affects a great number of people around the world. And it affects them in a variety of ways. Over time, hearing loss can influence your communication and relation with others in a negative way. So by leaving hearing impairment untreated, a physical condition may also become a psychological one. This is why it is so important to seek a solution promptly.
If you do have hearing loss, then it helps to know that you're not alone. In fact, you are one of about 500 million people worldwide. In most countries, this means more than 1 in 6 people have some degree of hearing impairment. But it's reassuring to know that a properly fitted hearing instrument can improve communication in at least 90% of people with hearing impairment. This means you can be quite confident that there is a solution.