Evolution of Hearing Aids

Atlanta Hearing Associates' Blog.

Featuring many modifications over the years, today’s hearing aids have gone through many iterations that are truly staggering. While hearing aids are more comfortable and customized  than they’ve ever been, technology has tracked two centuries of advancements, with that weren’t always so versatile, efficient and easy to use. Think about the fact that millions of people each day wear hearing aids, and you will see that hearing aids actually started out so primitively.

Early Hearing Aids

Ear trumpets, resembling horn-shaped devices, were very heavy and had to be hand held. They were also the first primitive sound amplifiers, with sizes that didn’t follow a set pattern. Instead, their purposes was to capture and amplify sounds that were detected around the user by sending sounds into the inner ear. These devices were rudimentary at best, so they didn’t provide the sound amplification you associate with hearing aids today. Big and bulky, these devices offered only  incremental acoustical improvement to those who required a little help.

Along Came Carbon Hearing Aids

Garnering inspiration from Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone, the late 19th century brought with it the first models of hearing aids in the form of carbon hearing aids. They utilized a carbon microphone in tandem with a magnetic receiver and battery. Sound waves struck the outside of the microphone, sending the carbon pieces in the hearing aid pressing against the diaphragm to create sound. These pieces moving through the diaphragm acted much the way sound waves do but they still lacked the sophistication we know of hearing aids today. Suffering from low-quality sound and picking up very few frequencies because of the carbon, they provided results only for those who only had a small amount of hearing loss.

The Precursor to Modern Hearing Aids: Vacuum Tube Hearing Aids

Vacuum tube hearing aids were the first of the electronic hearing aids to make their appearance in the 1920s, just before the emergence of modern hearing aids. Bell Labs decided to tweak the design with the invention of the first transistor for hearing aid use. Working by using a transmitter from a telephone, this device could quickly convert sounds grouped into electrical signals to amplify the sound via the receiver end. This initial portable hearing aid paved the way for electronic hearing aid design even though it weighed a whopping seven pounds.

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