There are three types of people out there: people who find history to be amazingly interesting, individuals who think history is terribly dull, and people who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you may believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Consequently, people have been exploring 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 greater appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals 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 wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was harder to deal with then). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to address hearing loss for thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids is not complete. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. Even if we don’t have a written record of exactly what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures 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 first proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this kind of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the impacts 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 is 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 prevalent form for centuries. These “ear trumpets” were a favored way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. The narrow end would go in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the bigger versions. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 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 reliable and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not exactly wearable. The base concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly practical.
- 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. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. New technologies also enabled better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your purse or pocket, it’s a giant leap! This was because of the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to accomplish the same effect. Because of this progress, people could conveniently bring 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 considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals 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 offered a better quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete package. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and efficient.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective due to this integration with other technologies.
The best hearing aids in history
For centuries or more, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can attain that better than at any time in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.