When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of individuals: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the true story is probably pretty weird as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been trying to find new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of mankind. 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 writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always kind of awful (particularly when left untreated). Communication will be much harder if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s significant to mention that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. Even if we don’t have a published record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures in that direction.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this type of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the impacts of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly carried 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 limit distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the predominant format for centuries. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). The early models were rather large and awkward. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Once again, these weren’t 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 invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually 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? Well, not so much. As of 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 useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
- 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 due to the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same impact. 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: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to manage their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering personalized amplification and clearer sound quality. 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 launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. And now, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
History’s most advanced hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A broad range of hearing issues can be addressed.
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.