There are three kinds of people out there: people who find history to be incredibly fascinating, people who think history is horribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. As a result, people have been exploring clever ways to deal with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of mankind. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when neglected). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they may not have been capable of detecting danger.
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to treat hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids is not complete. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the first proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this kind of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the impacts of hearing loss. Sound would be more easily moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant form. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the small end in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the larger versions. But they were able to 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 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! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your purse or pocket, it’s a giant leap! The same effect was now possible with less bulky technology thanks to the development of the transistor. As a result of this progress, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids became smaller. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to address their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. 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, if not longer.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and make an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!
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