When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of individuals: people who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and people who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot stranger than you may think. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. As a result, people have been exploring clever ways to deal with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of sucked (particularly when left untreated). Communication will be a lot harder if you have neglected hearing loss. You might lose touch with friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a strong 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 recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact 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. Clearly, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent form for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go inside your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). At first, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the bigger versions. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed 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 big, and not really wearable. The base principle was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. New technologies also allowed better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same effect was now possible with less bulky technology as a result of the development of the transistor. 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 got smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 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. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And today, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
History’s best 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 modern hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and make an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!