When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they begin to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty weird too. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. As a result, people have been finding clever ways to manage hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should use them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of humanity. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Reports of hearing loss also begin popping up as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are numerous 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 especially true because it was more difficult to manage then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to address hearing loss for thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s relevant 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 recorded. Even if we don’t have a written record of precisely what ancient people did to alleviate 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 reduce the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. The idea 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 working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant form. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of treating hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. 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). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as effective as the larger versions. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The root idea was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to 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 allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. 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 able to put one in your pocket or purse, it’s a significant leap! This was due to the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same impact. 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: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. 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 pretty rudimentary. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to manage their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a smaller package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And currently, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
For centuries or more, humans have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any point in the history of humanity. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a better 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.