When it comes to history, there are three different kinds of people: people who find history to be amazingly interesting, people who think history is horribly boring, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot weirder than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been exploring clever ways to cope with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of mankind. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s rather 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 wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more challenging to treat then). Communication will be much more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. You might become alienated from friends and family members. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to address hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. 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 direct evidence of what that was.
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. People probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent configuration for hundreds of years. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. At first, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the bigger versions. But they were able to funnel 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 employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should begin 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 realistic or wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (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: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was due to the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. Because of this advancement, people could conveniently bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a substantial decrease 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. 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 unveiled in 1982, though it wasn’t available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and better sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. These days, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
The best hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Better than at any other time 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 wide variety of hearing problems can be managed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and make an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!