There are three sorts of people out there: individuals who find history to be incredibly fascinating, people who think history is terribly dull, and those 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 might think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. As a result, people have been uncovering clever ways to manage hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of mankind. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. 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 wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more challenging to deal with then). Communication will be much more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You might become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to address hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. 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 measures in that direction.
But here’s what we do know about the known 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 lessen the effect 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. 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 give some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the dominant format. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to treat hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were called “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 variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as effective as the larger versions. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or wearable. The base concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now possible. New technologies also permitted better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your purse or pocket, it’s a huge leap! This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same effect. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to manage their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled 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 providing custom amplification and better sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient as a result of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Contemporary hearing aids can attain that better than at any time in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A wide variety of hearing problems can be addressed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your loved ones or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!