There are three types of people in the world: individuals who find history to be incredibly interesting, people who think history is terribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot stranger than you might think. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been exploring clever ways to cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
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 wear them more frequently.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of mankind. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s fairly cool! 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 (especially when neglected). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to treat hearing loss. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented 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.
But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and reduce the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates back to the 1200s. 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 it’s likely they give some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prominent format. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of treating hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go inside your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling range of shapes). The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were developed. Again, these were never super efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too large to be realistic or wearable. The core idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now feasible. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same impact was now available with less bulky technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. 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: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better sound quality, more ways to personalize 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: An growing amount of state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And now, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
History’s best hearing aids
For hundreds of years or longer, humans have been working on treating hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can attain that better than at any point in the history of humanity. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. They can help with a larger number of hearing problems.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your loved ones or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.