There are three sorts of people out there: 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 think that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the true story is probably pretty strange as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. Consequently, people have been exploring clever ways to deal with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of humanity. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s rather amazing! Reports of hearing loss also start appearing as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (especially when left untreated). 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).
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s important 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 recorded. It’s very 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 known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this kind of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the effects of hearing loss. 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 involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent configuration for centuries. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go inside your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Again, these weren’t very effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, 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! The same technology that energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. 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 huge leap! This was because of the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same effect. It became a substantial 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 got smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. Most people 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 was not commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided a better quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller package. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and effective.
- 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 invented. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with contemporary hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.