There are three types of individuals in the world: those who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is terribly boring, and people who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been trying to find new effective ways to manage hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by learning some history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. Fossil evidence shows signs 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 harder to treat then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You might become alienated from friends and family members. 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’ve even managed some very good successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
It’s important to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements 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 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 oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and reduce the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But it’s likely they provided some reasonable ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the dominant form. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a favored way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. The narrow end would go in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and burdensome. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were created. Again, these weren’t super efficient, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry 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 reliable and practical, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic 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 powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about 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 purse or pocket sized one. This was the result of the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to achieve 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 advanced. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals needed to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully adopted 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 personalized amplification and better sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and successful.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective due to this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Contemporary hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any time in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prominent 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 stronger connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.