When it comes to history, there are three different kinds of individuals: those who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is terribly dull, and people who believe history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you may think. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been exploring clever ways to manage hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very beginning of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also start showing up as soon as written language becomes a thing (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You may lose touch with friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to treat hearing loss for thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant to mention that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. It’s 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: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this kind 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 easily moved 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 they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the predominant format for hundreds of years. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and awkward. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. 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: 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 implemented for hearing aids until later). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too large to be practical 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! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also possible.
- 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 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 huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids became smaller. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to manage their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a smaller case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these tiny devices. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, modern 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, if not longer.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any point in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A wide range of hearing problems can be addressed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Call us and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!