When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of individuals: those who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is terribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot stranger than you may think. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. As a result, people have been uncovering clever ways to manage hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. It’s fairly cool! 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 might lose touch with friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to deal with hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s significant to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the developments 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 immediate evidence of what that was.
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. Evidence of this form 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 directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of 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: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the dominant format. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Again, these weren’t super efficient, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented 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 large, and not exactly wearable. The root idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned 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 cutting edge technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
- 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 development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same impact. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. 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: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it was not commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better sound quality, 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. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity 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 efficient as a result of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For hundreds of years or more, humans have been working on managing hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your loved ones or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!