There are three types of people in the world: those who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is terribly dull, and those who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But the true story is probably pretty weird as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been finding clever ways to manage hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by learning a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of humanity. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. It’s rather amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also begin appearing as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always kind of awful (especially when neglected). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to address hearing loss for thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant 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 documented. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate 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 first proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device goes back to the 1200s. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct 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 they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant configuration for centuries. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. At first, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, more portable models that could be carried around with you were developed. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the larger versions. 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 developed but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too large to be practical or wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one point, 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 manufactured, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
- 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 giant leap! This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same impact. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring 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, particularly, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. 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: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it wasn’t available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and clearer sound quality. 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. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And today, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Mankind has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Contemporary hearing aids can attain that better than at any time in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and schedule an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!