There are three kinds of people out there: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they begin to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you may believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. People have, consequently, been attempting to come up with new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by knowing some history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of mankind. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting 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 more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and loved ones 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 deal with hearing loss for thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s significant to note that we don’t have an exhaustive 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 immediate evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device goes 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 used, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they provided some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent form for hundreds of years. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). 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. Once again, these weren’t very effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they were able to channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, 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 employed for hearing aids until later). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. New technologies also permitted better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 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 giant leap! This was the result of the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same effect. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring 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 significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. These hearing aids basically 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: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a smaller case. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and successful.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these little devices. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, 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 most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.