When it comes to history, there are three different types of people: individuals who find history to be incredibly interesting, people who think history is horribly dull, and people who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you may believe. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. Because of this, people have been exploring 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 better appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should use them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also start popping up as soon as written language is created (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always kind of awful (particularly when left untreated). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to manage hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s relevant to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the developments 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 direct evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this form of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize 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. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they provided some moderate ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent configuration for centuries. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions 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 burdensome. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Once again, these were never very effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 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 effective and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical 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 time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, 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. The same impact was now possible with less bulky technology thanks to the development of the transistor. 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: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. 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 implemented and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development 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 little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For hundreds of years or more, humans have been working on treating hearing loss.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.
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.)
Call us and schedule an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!