There are three sorts of individuals in the world: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t behind 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 around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been attempting to discover new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more often.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of mankind. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. 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.
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 difficult to treat then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and family members. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to treat hearing loss for thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
It’s relevant to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to relieve 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: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and reduce 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. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant format. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. At first, they were large and burdensome. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the bigger versions. But they could carry 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 developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, and not exactly wearable. The core idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes permitted (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: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. The same impact was now available with less cumbersome technology as a result of the development of the transistor. As a result of this progress, people could conveniently bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to manage their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 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 were a game changer, they provided improved quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a more discrete package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. These days, contemporary 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.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For centuries or more, humans have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more popular than ever. A wide range of hearing issues can be managed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.