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About Hearing

Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D. - Better Hearing Institute, Washington, DC

It would seem that hearing is a second-rate sense when compared to vision in our visually oriented modern society. People with hearing loss delay a decision toget hearing help because they are unaware of the fact that receiving early treatment for hearing loss has the potential to literally transform their lives. Research by the National Council on the Aging on more than 2,000 people with hearing loss as well as their significant others demonstrated that hearing aids clearly are associated with impressive improvements in the social, emotional, psychological, and physical well-being of people with hearing loss in all hearing loss categories from mild to severe. Specifically, hearing aid usage is positively related to the following quality of life issues. Hearing loss treatment was shown to improve:

  • Earning power
  • Communication in relationships
  • Intimacy and warmth in family relationships
  • Ease in communication
  • Emotional stability
  • Sense of control over life events
  • Perception of mental functioning
  • Physical health
  • Group social participation

And just as importantly hearing loss treatment was shown to reduce:

  • Discrimination toward the person with the hearing loss
  • Hearing loss compensation behaviors (i.e. pretending you hear)
  • Anger and frustration in relationships
  • Depression and depressive symptoms
  • Feelings of paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Social phobias
  • Self-criticism

If you are one of those people with a mild, moderate or severe hearing loss, who is sitting on the fence, consider all the benefits of hearing aids described above. Hearing aids hold such great potential to positively change so many lives.

 You Should Hear What You Are Missing!

The ear is a sophisticated organ that transmits the sounds we hear into electrical impulses that are interpreted by the brain. The process of hearing and interpreting sound is accomplished at a fantastic speed. To achieve this remarkable feat, each part of the ear - outer, middle and inner ear - fulfills a specific function.

The Outer Ear


The outer ear is composed of the pinna, the familiar visible portion of the ear, and the ear canal. The shape of the outer ear serves to give preference to sounds originating from the front. The shape of the ear canal serves to enhance frequencies that are important for hearing speech.

The Middle Ear

The middle ear consists of the eardrum, or tympanic membrane, and three tiny ear bones, or ossicles. The ossicles are the smallest bones in the human body. Although named the malleus, incus and stapes, they are often referred to as the hammer, anvil and stirrup because of their characteristic shape. Besides their role in the transmission of sound, these bones help to protect the ear from damage by constricting and limiting sound transmission when sound is too loud. The middle ear also contains the Eustachian tube, which connects with the throat, and serves to ventilate and regulate pressure in the middle ear.

The Inner Ear

The inner ear is composed of the semi-circular canals, which are important for balance, and the fluid-filled, snail-shaped hearing organ, the cochlea.

How We Hear/Transmission of Sound


The funnel shaped outer ear functions to collect sound waves which are then transferred through the ear canal to the eardrum.

Sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate. This vibration stimulates the movement of the middle ear bones, which are attached to the eardrum on the middle ear side. These bones amplify the vibrations received by the eardrum and transmit them to the oval window, a small membrane on the cochlea, which separates the middle ear from the inner ear.

On the cochlear side of the oval window is fluid (or lymph) which fills the cochlea. Vibration of the oval window causes pressure waves within the cochlear fluid. The pressure waves stimulate movement of thousands of acoustic hair cells in the cochlea, converting the sound signal into electrical stimuli via neurons. These electric stimuli are transmitted to the brain via the eighth cranial nerve, or auditory nerve. In the brain these stimuli are processed and are perceived as sound.