There are three types of individuals out there: those who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is terribly boring, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. Because of this, people have been uncovering clever ways to deal with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by discovering some history about them.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very beginning of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also start showing up once written language becomes a thing (for example, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always kind of awful (especially when left untreated). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and family members may become more distant. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been capable of detecting danger.
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids is not exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s 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: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact 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. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t working 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 dominant configuration for centuries. These “ear trumpets” were a favored way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, more portable models that could be carried around with you were developed. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the bigger versions. But they could channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, and not exactly wearable. The root concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed 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 purse or pocket, it’s a huge leap! This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same impact. It became a substantial 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 advanced, hearing aids got smaller. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided a better sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a smaller package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 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 with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Modern hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any time in human history. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A wide range of hearing problems can be managed.
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 find out what hearing aids can do for you!