When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: individuals who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and those who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the true story is probably pretty weird too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. Consequently, people have been uncovering clever ways to manage 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 learning some history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of mankind. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s rather amazing! Reports of hearing loss also start appearing as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are many 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 especially true because it was more difficult to treat then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style 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 figure out how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
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. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the effects of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they provided some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent configuration for hundreds of years. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the small end in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Because there was still no amplification, they were about 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 employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not really wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized 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 possible. New technologies also enabled 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. The same impact was now possible with less bulky technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. Because of this progress, people could easily 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 got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. Most individuals 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 offering personalized amplification and clearer sound quality. 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 state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective because of this integration with other technologies.
The best hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can attain that better than at any point in human history. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and schedule an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!