When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of people: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they start to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the true story is probably pretty strange too. 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 hundreds of years, if not longer.
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.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. They can see indicators 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.
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (especially when left untreated). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You might lose touch with friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit 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 learn how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids is not exhaustive. 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 relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this form of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen 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. Clearly, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But it’s likely they give some moderate ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent format for hundreds of years. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, more portable models that could be carried around with you were developed. Again, these were never very effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 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. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also enabled better amplification and slightly 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 the result of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same impact. It became a huge 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 advanced. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. They just boosted 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 personalize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a smaller case. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent 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 tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. And now, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective because of this integration with other technologies.
The best hearing aids in history
Humanity 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. 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.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.