There are three types of people 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 believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot stranger than you may believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. People have, consequently, been trying to discover new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of mankind. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s rather amazing! Reports of hearing loss also start appearing once written language becomes a thing (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more challenging to manage then). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and family members 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).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat hearing loss for thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
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 most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). 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 continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go inside your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the larger versions. But they could funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, 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). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, and not really wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about 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. This was due to the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same impact. Because of this advancement, 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 improved. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it wasn’t commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and better sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of innovative 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 using machine learning algorithms. 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 managing 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 effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A wide variety of hearing problems can be addressed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your family 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.