There are three sorts of individuals out there: people who find history to be amazingly interesting, people who think history is terribly boring, and people who believe history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty strange as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. Consequently, people have been exploring clever ways to cope with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should use them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of humanity. Fossil evidence reveals signs of ear pathologies. It’s fairly cool! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more challenging to treat then). Communication will be much harder if you have neglected hearing loss. You may become alienated from friends and family members. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been capable of detecting danger.
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to deal with hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s relevant 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 direct evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and reduce 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 move sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they provided some reasonable ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prominent form. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Again, these were never very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. 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 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? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or 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 energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also possible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same effect was now available with less bulky technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. Because of this progress, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it wasn’t commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and eficient.
- 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 connectivity came first. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
The best hearing aids in history
For centuries or more, we have been working on managing hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can attain that better than at any point in human history. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. They can help with a larger number of hearing problems.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have 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!