When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: individuals who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly boring, and people who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the true story is probably pretty strange as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Because of this, people have been finding clever ways to manage hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
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.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of humanity. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more challenging to deal with then). Communication will be much more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You might become alienated from friends and loved ones. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type 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 treat hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids is not complete. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate 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: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the effects of hearing loss. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification involved, 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: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant form. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d put the small end in your ear. You could get them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Once again, these weren’t very effective, 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: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. 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 too large to be practical or 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 energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also permitted better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your pocket or purse, it’s a giant leap! This was the result of the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. As a result of this advancement, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies got better, hearing aids got smaller. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more popular. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to manage 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 were a game changer, they offered a better quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a smaller case. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and efficient.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And now, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
For hundreds of years or more, we 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 beneficial, these little devices are also more popular than ever. 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, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.