When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to find new effective ways to manage hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of mankind. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. It’s fairly cool! 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’s likely always kind of awful (especially when left untreated). Communication will be much harder if you have neglected hearing loss. You might lose touch with friends and loved ones. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been able to detect danger.
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to treat hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s relevant to note that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. Even if we don’t have a published record of exactly what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and lessen the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. The idea 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 control distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the predominant format for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were developed. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the bigger versions. But they could channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not really wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, 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 giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was the result of the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to accomplish the same effect. As a result of this progress, people could conveniently bring 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 improved. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just increased the volume of 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 wasn’t commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a smaller package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 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. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. 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 supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Call us and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!