When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of individuals: individuals who find history to be amazingly interesting, individuals who think history is terribly boring, and people who believe history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. People have, consequently, been attempting to find new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the beginning 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 use them more often.
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. Fossil evidence reveals signs of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like 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’s likely always sort of sucked (especially when neglected). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and family members may become more distant. When humans were a little more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and lessen the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type 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 like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent format for hundreds of years. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the small end in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Again, these were never very effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they were able to channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s these devices were too large to be practical or 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! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. New technologies also enabled better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same impact was now possible with less cumbersome technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to take your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more popular. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people needed to effectively 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 were a game changer, they provided improved quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a smaller package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. These days, 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!
History’s best hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
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 popular than ever. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a better 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.