When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: individuals who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot weirder than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans 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 wear them more frequently.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of mankind. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (especially when left untreated). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids is not exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the developments 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 immediate evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates 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. Clearly, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. 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 format for hundreds of years. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the small end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and unwieldy. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Again, these were never super effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 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. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not really wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now possible. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. The same impact was now available with less bulky technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. It became a substantial 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 got smaller. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. 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 effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Contemporary hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any point in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. They can help with a larger number of hearing problems.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your loved ones or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.