When it comes to history, there are three different kinds of people: people who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and people who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot stranger than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to find new effective ways to handle hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very beginning of human existence has been found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also start popping up as soon as written language is created (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when left untreated). Communication will be much more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. Even if we don’t have a published record of exactly what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
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 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 move sound more directly into the ear. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant format for centuries. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a favored way to treat hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the small end in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). Initially, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the larger versions. But they could bring 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 start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were 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 pocket or purse, it’s a significant leap! This was the result of the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same effect. As a result 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, particularly, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to address their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while providing personalized 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: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. And today, 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!
The best hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A wide range of hearing issues can be managed.
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.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.