When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of individuals: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the true story is probably pretty weird as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. Because of this, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more challenging to deal with then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. Friends and family members may become more distant. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might 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 great successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s important to note that we don’t have an exhaustive 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 written record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent format for centuries. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go inside your ear. You could get them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). The early models were rather large and awkward. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the larger versions. But they were able to funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was developed 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 giant, and not really 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, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also possible.
- 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 huge leap! This was because of the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same effect. Because of this progress, people could conveniently take 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 reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather basic. These hearing aids essentially 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 wasn’t commercially available 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 robust 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 tiny devices. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And now, 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 best hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Contemporary hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any time in the history of humanity. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a better 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.