When it comes to history, there are three different kinds of individuals: 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 think that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird too. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s 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.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should use them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence shows signs of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Reports of hearing loss also begin showing up once written language is created (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 untreated hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You might lose touch with friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to address hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
It’s important to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s very 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: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the first proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this type of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce 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 is no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent format for centuries. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a favored way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the larger versions. But they were able to funnel 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. This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not exactly wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very 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 permitted (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 significant leap! The same effect was now available with less bulky 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: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to manage their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 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 changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while providing custom amplification and clearer sound quality. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
- 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 little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. 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.
The best hearing aids in history
For centuries or longer, we have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A broad range of hearing issues can be managed.
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.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.