There are three types of individuals out there: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. Consequently, people have been exploring clever ways to manage hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more frequently.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very beginning of human existence has been found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also start showing up as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are numerous Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (particularly when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to address hearing loss for thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s important to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this type of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen the impacts of hearing loss. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. Obviously, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they provided some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the dominant form. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Again, these were never super efficient, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, and not exactly wearable. The core principle was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. This was due to the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to accomplish the same impact. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to take your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a substantial reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to address their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it wasn’t available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and better sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these tiny devices. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient as a result of this integration with other technologies.
The best hearing aids in history
For centuries or more, humans have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any point in human history. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever. A broad range of hearing problems can be managed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.