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Hearing is one of the human body's most extraordinary processes.

A complex system of delicate and synchronous parts, it's easy to take this critical sense for granted. To better understand why hearing loss happens, it's important to first know how hearing works. 

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Why is hearing so special?

As one of our most important senses, the ability to hear enables us to connect to the world around us by communicating in a way that none of our other senses can achieve.

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How Hearing

It begins with

Sound begins with a vibration in the atmosphere. When something vibrates (whether it's wind, a bell or a voice), it moves the air particles around it. Those air particles in turn move the air particles around them, carrying the energy of the vibration through the air as a sound wave. Your ear picks up these sound waves. 

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From Waves to

Sound waves are collected by the outer ear and directed along the ear canal to the eardrum.

When the sound waves hit the eardrum, the impact creates vibration, which, in turn, cause the three bones of the middle ear to move.

The smallest of these bones, the stirrup, fits into the oval window between the middle and inner ear. 

When the oval window moves, fluid in the inner ear moves, carrying the energy through a delicate, snail-shaped structure called the cochlea. 

In the inner ear, thousands of microscopic hair cells are bent by the wave-like action of the fluid inside the cochlea. The bending of these hairs sets off nerve impulses, which are then passed through the auditory nerve to the hearing center of the brain. This center translates the impulses into sounds the brain can recognise, such as words, music or laughter.

If any part of this delicate system breaks down, hearing loss can be the result.

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Did You Know?

The shape of your outer ear is as unique as you are - but plays an important role in how you hear. Called the pinna, its funnel-like shape and curvy design enable you to determine the direction of sounds, so you immediately know whether they're coming from in front, behind, above or below you. 

Adapted from Starkey 'How Hearing Works' brochure.

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