When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of people: 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 about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the true story is probably pretty weird as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. As a result, people have been uncovering clever ways to deal with 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
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Reports of hearing loss also begin showing up as soon as written language is created (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage hearing loss. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. Even if we don’t have a published record of precisely what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and reduce the impact 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. Obviously, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent format for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling range of shapes). Initially, they were large and burdensome. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Since 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 invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not exactly wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered 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. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also feasible.
- 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 giant leap! This was due to the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same effect. Because of this advancement, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. 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 successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it wasn’t available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering personalized amplification and clearer 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 stack more and more technology into these tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. And now, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
History’s most advanced hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your loved ones or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and make an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!