There are three types of people in the world: 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 think that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids is not about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot stranger than you might think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been trying to come up with new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of mankind. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations such as 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 (particularly when neglected). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You might become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they might not have been capable of detecting danger.
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids is not complete. Throughout time, some of the advancements 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 direct evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this kind of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the effects of hearing loss. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they give some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prevalent format. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the larger versions. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really 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 too large to be practical or wearable. The core principle was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also permitted better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was because of the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same effect. As a result of this progress, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a substantial decrease in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. They just amplified 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 adopted and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided a better sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
For centuries or more, we have been working on managing hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a larger number 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.)
Give us a call and make an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!