There are three sorts of people out there: people who find history to be amazingly fascinating, individuals who think history is terribly boring, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot stranger than you may think. 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 come up with new effective ways to handle hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by knowing a bit of history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Reports of hearing loss also start showing up as soon as written language becomes a thing (for instance, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more difficult to treat then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You might become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to address hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids is not complete. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. Even if we don’t have a written record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized 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 decrease the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more easily moved 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 it’s likely they provided some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant format. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go inside your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Once again, these were never very effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the invention 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). This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not really wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. New technologies also permitted better amplification and slightly 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 available with less bulky technology as a result of the development of the transistor. Because of this advancement, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a substantial decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. 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: While not fully implemented and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete package. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and eficient.
- 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 today, 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!
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For hundreds of years or longer, humans have been working on managing hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. They can help with a larger number 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.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.