When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of people: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot stranger than you might think. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. As a result, people have been exploring clever ways to manage hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
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 use them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of mankind. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting 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 challenging to treat then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You might become alienated from friends and loved ones. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like 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 recorded through time. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate 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. Evidence of this form of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen the impacts of hearing loss. Sound would be more easily carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the dominant form. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. 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 super efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could 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 employed as 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 large, and not exactly wearable. The core idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was due to the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to accomplish the same effect. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant decrease in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really 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 changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and clearer sound quality. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and successful.
- 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. And now, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient as a result of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!