When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of people: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they start to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been finding clever ways to deal with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also start popping up as soon as written language becomes a thing (for example, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (especially when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You might become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s relevant to note that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the developments 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 measures in that direction.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and reduce 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. There was no amplification involved, 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: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent format for centuries. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. 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 range of shapes). The early models were quite large and unwieldy. Eventually, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the bigger versions. But they could funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. 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: Then came vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was the result of the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same effect. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to take your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather rudimentary. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it was not available commercially 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. With the advent 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 cram more and more technology into these little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And today, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient due to this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
For hundreds of years or longer, humans have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. A wide variety of hearing problems can be managed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and make an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!