When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of individuals: individuals who find history to be amazingly interesting, people who think history is horribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the true story is probably pretty weird as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. As a result, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope with hearing loss for centuries, 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 wear them more frequently.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of mankind. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also start popping up as soon as written language becomes a thing (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more difficult to manage then). Communication will be much more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. You might become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been capable of detecting danger.
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s relevant to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements 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.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this form of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the effects of hearing loss. Sound would be more easily moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. 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 reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent form for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to treat hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go inside your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Again, these weren’t very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, 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 implemented for hearing aids until later). This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s these devices were too large 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! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also feasible.
- 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 impact was now available with less cumbersome technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. As a result of this progress, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more prominent 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 adopted and commercially available 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 personalized amplification and better sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 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 developed. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And now, 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 longer, humans have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in the history of humanity. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. A wide variety of hearing issues can be addressed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.
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