When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of people: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is discussed, 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 probably a lot weirder than you may think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. Consequently, people have been finding clever ways to cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by knowing a bit of history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of mankind. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. It’s rather amazing! 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 wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more challenging to manage then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. 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 (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to treat hearing loss for thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
It’s important to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 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 lessen the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification used, 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: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prominent form. And that persisted 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. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Eventually, creative individuals created 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 carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, 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 implemented 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 huge, and not exactly 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, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also possible.
- 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 significant leap! The same impact was now possible with less bulky technology thanks to 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 advanced. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people needed to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to package 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: An increasing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For centuries or more, we have been working on managing hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any point in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent 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 children or your family or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.