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Functioning of the ear
The ear is a key organ enabling communication with the world around us and is divided into three parts:
- The outer ear is comprised of the auricle (the visible outer part), the eardrum and the ear canal. The outer ear captures the sound waves and sends them into the auditory canal, where they cause the eardrum to vibrate.
- The middle ear consists of the ossicles, the three smallest bones in the human body. These small bones connect the eardrum to the inner ear. The vibrations in the eardrum cause the three auditory ossicles in the middle ear to vibrate.
- The inner ear includes the cochlea, which is often referred to as the organ of hearing. The cochlea converts the sound to nerve impulses that are transmitted to the brain. The vibrations from the middle ear stimulate thousands of hair cells in the cochlea. The resulting movements are converted into electrical impulses, which the brain finally perceives as sounds.
Hearing impairment is more widespread than you may think
Hearing loss is a widespread phenomenon. Approximately 15-20% of the population in the industrialized world suffer from it. Age-related hearing loss occurs when the hair cells in the inner ear lose their flexibility over the course of a person’s life. Although the outer ear continues to capture sound waves as before and to transmit them via the outer and middle ear, the inner ear is unable to pick up the sound vibrations and to transmit them to the brain.
The natural ageing process is the most common cause of hearing, making hearing loss a normal phenomenon with increasing age.