When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. As a result, people have been finding clever ways to manage hearing loss for hundreds of years, 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 often.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more challenging to treat then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been capable of detecting danger.
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to address hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
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 advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. 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: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. 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 limit distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant format for centuries. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the small end in your ear. They came in a wide variety 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 effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the invention 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 shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too large 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 energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also permitted better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your pocket or purse, it’s a giant leap! The same impact was now possible with less bulky technology as a result of the development of the transistor. It became a huge 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 became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals needed to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided a better quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete case. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these tiny devices. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And today, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
History’s best hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Modern hearing aids can attain that better than at any point in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. 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 supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.