There are three kinds of people in the world: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the real 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. As a result, people have been finding clever ways to manage hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of mankind. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also start popping up once written language becomes a thing (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (especially when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You may lose touch with friends and family members. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to address hearing loss for thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. Even if we don’t have a written record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures in that direction.
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 most likely 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. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t working 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: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant form. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Again, these weren’t super effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they were able to channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 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. This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, 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: Hello, vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, at that time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now feasible. New technologies also enabled better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. This was the result of the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to achieve the same effect. Because of this advancement, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 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. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still rather rudimentary. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled 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 package everything into a more discrete package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the evolution 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 tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. These days, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For centuries or longer, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
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 before. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.