When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of people: those who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is terribly dull, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Consequently, people have been finding clever ways to deal with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of sucked (especially when left untreated). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. Even if we don’t have a published record of exactly what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and lessen the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more easily carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Obviously, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they give some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant format 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. The narrow end would go inside your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever 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 efficient as the bigger versions. But they were able to channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, 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 reliable and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, and not really 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! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now possible. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge 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 huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 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 personalized amplification and better sound quality. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and successful.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And now, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient as a result of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For centuries or longer, humans have been working on treating hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish 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 wider range of hearing issues.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your loved ones or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!