There are three sorts of individuals in the world: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot stranger than you may think. 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.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper 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 uncovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of humanity. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also begin popping up once written language is created (for example, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more difficult to manage then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to deal with hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids is not exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. Even if we don’t have a written record of precisely what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates back to the 1200s. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct 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 it’s likely they give some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent form for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to treat hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the small end in your ear. You could get them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the bigger 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 developed but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The base concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and improved 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 effect was now possible with less cumbersome technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. Because of this progress, people could easily take 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 advanced. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully adopted and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and clearer sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Modern hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any point in human history. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. A wide variety of hearing issues can be addressed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.