When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of individuals: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they start to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot stranger than you might think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been trying to discover new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of mankind. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Reports of hearing loss also start popping up as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention 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 harder to manage then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You might become alienated from friends and loved ones. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s significant 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 exactly what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures in that direction.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and lessen the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more easily carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside 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 throughout the seventeenth century. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the bigger versions. 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 reliable and practical, right? Not really. 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: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, 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 giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. This was because of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same effect. As a result of this progress, 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 improved. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 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 package everything into a more discrete package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and eficient.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these tiny devices. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective due to this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on managing hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can accomplish 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 beneficial. They can help with a larger number 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.)
Contact us and schedule an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!