There are three kinds of individuals in the world: individuals who find history to be incredibly interesting, people who think history is horribly dull, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Consequently, people have been finding clever ways to manage hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s rather amazing! Civilizations like 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 wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly 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. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest 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 reduce the impacts of hearing loss. Sound would be more easily moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Obviously, this device isn’t working like 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 form for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Once again, these weren’t super effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the development 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? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or wearable. The core idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also enabled better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 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 the result of the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to accomplish the same impact. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 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 improved quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete package. 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: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And currently, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on treating hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any point in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A wide range of hearing issues can be addressed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and make an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!
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