When it comes to history, there are three different kinds of people: people who find history to be amazingly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and people who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the true story is probably pretty strange too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been trying to come up with new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the dawn 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 frequently.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of mankind. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like 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 wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more difficult to treat then). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You might become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to treat hearing loss. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s important to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate 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 were used as some of the first proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the impacts of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent form for hundreds of years. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a startling range of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Once again, these weren’t super efficient, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not exactly wearable. The core idea was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. 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 able to put one in your pocket or purse, it’s a significant leap! The same impact was now available with less cumbersome technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. 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 got smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 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 were a game changer, they provided improved sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a smaller case. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of state-of-the-art 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 because of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, humans have been working on treating 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. 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, 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!