When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: those who find history to be amazingly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly boring, and people who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot stranger than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more frequently.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
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 challenging to treat then). Communication will be much more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You may become alienated from friends and family members. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. Even if we don’t have a written record of precisely 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 first proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates back to the 1200s. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification involved, 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 control distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant format. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of treating hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the small 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. Once again, these weren’t super efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they were able to channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 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? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were large, and not really wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to 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 feasible. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being able to put one in your pocket or purse, it’s a huge leap! This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same impact. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to take your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. They just boosted 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: While not fully adopted and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while providing custom amplification and clearer sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And currently, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective due to this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A broad range of hearing issues can be addressed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.