When it comes to history, there are three different types of people: 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 believe that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the true story is probably pretty strange too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been trying to discover new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by learning some history about them.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting 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 harder to deal with then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant to mention that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this kind of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen the effects of hearing loss. Sound would be more easily carried 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 it’s likely they give some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent format for centuries. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the small end in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). Initially, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Once again, these were never very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could funnel 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 employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. 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 big, and not exactly wearable. The base concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 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 able to put one in your purse or pocket, it’s a giant leap! This was due to the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. As a result of this advancement, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids got smaller. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. They just amplified 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: 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 provided a better sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a more discrete case. 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 introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
History’s best hearing aids
For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on treating hearing loss.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and make an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!