When it comes to history, there are three different kinds of individuals: individuals who find history to be incredibly interesting, people who think history is terribly boring, and people who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot stranger than you might think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. Consequently, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope 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 tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when neglected). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You might lose touch with friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they may not have been capable of detecting danger.
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant 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. Even if we don’t have a published record of exactly what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. The concept 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 give some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prominent format. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go inside your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a startling range of shapes). At first, they were large and burdensome. 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: Okay, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were large, and not really wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and better 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 because of the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring 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 considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 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 providing personalized 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 cram more and more technology into these little devices. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on treating hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can attain that better than at any time in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A wide range of hearing problems can be addressed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and schedule an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!