There are three kinds of people in the world: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. People have, consequently, been trying to find new effective ways to manage 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 learning a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of mankind. They can detect indicators 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.
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more difficult to treat then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
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 terrific successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. Even if we don’t have a written 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 oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and lessen 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. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prominent form. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular 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. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). Initially, they were large and burdensome. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Once again, these were never very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really 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? 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 powered those old, extremely 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. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also possible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being able to put one in your purse or pocket, it’s a huge leap! The same impact was now available with less cumbersome technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. As a result of this advancement, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. 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 really what most individuals 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 provided improved quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these little devices. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.