When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of people: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird too. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. As a result, people have been uncovering clever ways to deal with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Mentions of hearing loss also begin showing up once written language is created (for example, 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 especially true because it was more challenging to deal with then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You might lose touch with friends and family members. 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 for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s significant 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 alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and reduce the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates 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 used, 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 centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prevalent format. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Once again, these weren’t super effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big 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! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. 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 giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was because of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. Because of this advancement, people could easily bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it wasn’t available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and better sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these little devices. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And today, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective due to this integration with other technologies.
The best hearing aids in history
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A broad range of hearing problems can be addressed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a stronger connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.