When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: individuals who find history to be amazingly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot stranger than you may think. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. As a result, people have been finding clever ways to deal with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of mankind. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s rather amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also start showing up once written language becomes a thing (for instance, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more difficult to manage then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you may 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 didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s important to mention that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. Even if we don’t have a published record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
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 kind of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the effects of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But it’s likely they provided some reasonable ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the dominant form. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to treat hearing loss through the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as effective as the bigger versions. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too large to be realistic or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also permitted better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being able to put one in your pocket or purse, it’s a giant leap! The same effect was now available with less bulky technology as a result of the development of the transistor. As a result of this progress, people could easily bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a significant decrease in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to manage their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully adopted and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and better sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And today, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
History’s best hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Contemporary hearing aids can attain that better than at any time in human history. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your loved ones or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.