When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of people: people who find history to be incredibly interesting, people who think history is terribly dull, and those 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 think. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been finding 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.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of humanity. Fossil evidence shows signs of ear pathologies. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more difficult to treat then). Communication will be much more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to deal with hearing loss for thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s relevant to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this kind of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the impacts of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, 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 external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant form. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Once again, these weren’t super 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 developed but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or 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 point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. This was because of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to accomplish the same impact. Because of this advancement, people could conveniently bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies got better, hearing aids got smaller. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. They just amplified 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 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 offering personalized amplification and better sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution 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 cram more and more technology into these tiny devices. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
The best hearing aids in history
For centuries or longer, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can achieve that better than at any point in human history. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A wide variety of hearing issues can be managed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and make an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!