There are three sorts of people in the world: people who find history to be incredibly interesting, people who think history is terribly dull, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot weirder than you might think. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. As a result, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
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 pretty cool! Mentions of hearing loss also start appearing once written language is created (for instance, there are numerous 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 especially true because it was harder to treat then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You might lose touch with friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to address hearing loss for thousands of years. 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 an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. Even if we don’t have a published record of precisely what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures 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. Evidence of this form of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the impacts of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly 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 give some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the predominant form for hundreds of years. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. The narrow end would go in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). At first, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Again, these weren’t super effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now feasible. Slightly clearer sound and improved 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 available with less bulky technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. As a result of this advancement, people could conveniently bring 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 advanced. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant decrease 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 individuals 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 provided improved sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a smaller case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the development 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 today, modern hearing aids will utilize 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 hundreds of years or more, we have been working on managing hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A wide range of hearing issues can be addressed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.