When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of people: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot stranger than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to come up with new effective ways to handle hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of humanity. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like 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’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when neglected). Communication will be much more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You might become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to address hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
It’s relevant to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. Even if we don’t have a published 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 known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and lessen the effect 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 conduct sound more directly into the ear. Clearly, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But it’s likely they give some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the predominant configuration for centuries. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Once again, these were never super efficient, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they were able to 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 invented 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 large, and not exactly wearable. The base principle was there, but the technology wasn’t refined 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 state-of-the art 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 possible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. This was because of the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to accomplish the same impact. As a result of this progress, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. 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: While not fully adopted and commercially introduced 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 effective since the development 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. This started out 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 efficient as a result of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.