When it comes to history, there are three different types of people: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been finding clever ways to cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
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 frequently.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of mankind. Fossil evidence shows signs of ear pathologies. It’s fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also begin appearing once written language becomes a thing (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of sucked (particularly when left untreated). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You might become alienated from friends and loved ones. 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 manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this form of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen the effects of hearing loss. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the predominant format for hundreds of years. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Once again, these were never super effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too large to be realistic or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. As a result of this advancement, people could easily bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite 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 wasn’t commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided a better sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete case. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of sophisticated 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 efficient, and more convenient!
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A wide range of hearing problems can be managed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a stronger connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and make an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!