There are three sorts of people out there: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they start 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 real story is probably pretty strange too. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. People have, as a result, been trying to discover new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very beginning of human existence has been found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals signs of ear pathologies. It’s rather amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also begin appearing as soon as written language becomes a thing (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more challenging to deal with then). Communication will be much more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You may become alienated from friends and family members. 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 completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s important to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
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. People probably used this device to amplify sound and lessen the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates back to the 1200s. The concept 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 on the level of 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 dominant configuration for centuries. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to treat hearing loss through the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the small end in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Again, these weren’t very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the development 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). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not really wearable. The core principle was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, at that time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. Slightly clearer sound and better 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 pocket or purse, it’s a significant leap! This was because of the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to achieve the same effect. As a result of this advancement, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. 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 quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a smaller package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 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. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And currently, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
The best hearing aids in history
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and schedule an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!