There are three kinds of individuals in the world: individuals who find history to be incredibly interesting, people who think history is horribly dull, and people who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to discover new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own tiny, 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 found by archaeologists. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Reports of hearing loss also start appearing as soon as written language becomes a thing (for example, 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 particularly true because it was more difficult to treat then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type 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’ve even managed some great successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s important to mention 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 documented. 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 oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent form for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling range of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Once again, these were never very effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. 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 actually invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed 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 really wearable. The root idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! At one time, 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 enabled better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 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 significant leap! The same effect was now possible with less cumbersome technology as a result of the development of the transistor. Because of this advancement, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more popular. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather rudimentary. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people needed to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented 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 providing personalized amplification and clearer sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 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. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For centuries or longer, humans have been working on managing hearing loss.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. A wide range of hearing problems can be managed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your loved ones 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 discover what hearing aids can do for you!
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