When it comes to history, there are three different types of people: those who find history to be amazingly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot stranger than you may believe. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been attempting to find new effective ways to handle hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also start popping up as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more difficult to treat then). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. 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 important to note 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 documented. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 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 lessen the impacts of hearing loss. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. Obviously, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant form. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go inside your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Again, these were never very effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really developed 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? Well, not so much. As of the early 1900s these devices were too large to be practical or wearable. The root concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. 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 impact was now available with less cumbersome technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. 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: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided a better quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and successful.
- 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 technology came first. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
History’s best hearing aids
For centuries or longer, humans have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A wide range of hearing issues can be managed.
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.)
Contact us and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!