There are three types of people in the world: people who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and people who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot stranger than you may believe. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. As a result, people have been finding clever ways to cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by knowing some history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing 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! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of sucked (especially when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they might not have been capable of detecting danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to deal with hearing loss going back 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 documented 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: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device goes back to the 1200s. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification involved, 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 limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent form for centuries. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and unwieldy. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the bigger versions. 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. 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 large, and not exactly wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. New technologies also enabled better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant 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 conveniently bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids got smaller. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while providing personalized amplification and clearer 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: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For hundreds of years or more, humans 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. These little pieces of technology are more popular 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 loved ones or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.