When it comes to history, there are three different 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 mentioned, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids is not 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. Because of this, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope 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 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 found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of mankind. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Reports of hearing loss also start showing up once written language is created (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss 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 deal with then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You might lose touch with friends and loved ones. When humans were a little more primitive, neglected hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they may not have been capable of detecting danger.
So going back 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 important to mention that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to relieve 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: 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 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. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they provided some moderate ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the dominant format. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible models 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 carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was developed but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not exactly 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 point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. New technologies also enabled better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being able to put one in your purse or pocket, it’s a huge leap! This was due to the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same impact. It became a substantial 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 got smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people needed 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 were a game changer, they offered a better quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful 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 little devices. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, modern 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.
The best hearing aids in history
For centuries or longer, we have been working on treating hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can attain that better than at any point in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A wide variety of hearing issues can be addressed.
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.)
Call us and make an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!