There are three types of people in the world: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who think 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 think. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been trying to find new effective ways to handle 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 knowing a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. They can see signs 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.
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always kind of awful (especially when neglected). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. 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).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to deal with hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
It’s significant to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no direct 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 served as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and reduce the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent form for hundreds of years. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular 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 find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Again, these weren’t super effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could 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. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too large to be practical or wearable. The base concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also enabled better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your purse or pocket, it’s a huge leap! The same effect was now available with less bulky technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to take your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies got better, hearing aids got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. 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 address their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented 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 providing custom amplification and clearer sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and successful.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective because of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For centuries or more, humans have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in the history of humanity. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A broad range of hearing problems can be addressed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.