When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange too. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. As a result, people have been uncovering clever ways to deal with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by knowing a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of humanity. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about 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 especially true because it was more challenging to manage then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. Even if we don’t have a published record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures in that direction.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this form of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the effects of hearing loss. Sound would be more easily moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they provided some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the predominant format for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” were a favored way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and awkward. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the bigger versions. But they were able to funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 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 effective and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too large to be realistic or wearable. The base concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, at that time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now feasible. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. This was the result of the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. Because of this progress, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to manage their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and better sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
- 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 little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And currently, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
The best hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, humans have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in human history. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. They can help with a larger number of hearing problems.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Call us and schedule an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!