There are three types of people out there: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But the true story is probably pretty weird as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to find new effective ways to manage 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 wear them more often.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also begin showing up once written language is created (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (particularly when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You might lose touch with friends and loved ones. When humans were a little more primitive, neglected hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been capable of detecting danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to address 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 is not exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. 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: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People probably 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 involved, 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 limit distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prominent form. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a favored way to manage 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 inside your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Eventually, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as effective as the larger versions. But they could 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 employed for hearing aids until later). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not exactly wearable. The base principle was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now feasible. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also feasible.
- 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 due to the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to accomplish the same effect. Because of this progress, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a significant decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more popular. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to address their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced 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 providing custom 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 developed. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, humans have been working on dealing with 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 popular than ever. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
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.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.