When it comes to history, there are three different kinds of individuals: people who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is terribly dull, and people who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot weirder than you may believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. Consequently, people have been exploring clever ways to manage hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
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 treat then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s relevant to note 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 published record of exactly what ancient people did to relieve 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. Evidence of this kind of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the effects of hearing loss. Sound would be more easily moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Obviously, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they give some moderate ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant format for centuries. 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 small end in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Once again, these were never very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. 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 begin amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not exactly wearable. The base idea was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came 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 about the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also possible.
- 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 huge leap! The same effect was now possible with less bulky technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. Because of this progress, people could easily bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather rudimentary. They just boosted 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: While not fully adopted and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and eficient.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And now, modern hearing aids will utilize 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.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and improving 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. A wide variety of hearing problems can be managed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.