There are three sorts of individuals out there: people who find history to be amazingly interesting, individuals who think history is terribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot weirder than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. People have, consequently, been trying to come up with new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
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 rather amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also begin popping up as soon as written language becomes a thing (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always kind of awful (especially when left untreated). Communication will be a lot harder if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and family members may become more distant. When humans were a little more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they might not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat hearing loss for thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen the impacts of hearing loss. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they provided some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant form. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and awkward. Eventually, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Once again, these were never very effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was developed but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not exactly wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also possible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same impact. As a result of this progress, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. 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: While not fully implemented and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. 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 efficient, and more convenient!
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For centuries or more, humans have been working on managing hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can attain that better than at any time in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A wide range of hearing issues can be addressed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.