When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of people: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they start to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the true story is probably pretty weird too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to come up with new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also begin showing up once written language is created (for instance, there are numerous Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
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 deal with then). Communication will be much harder if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to deal with hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids is not complete. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. Even if we don’t have a written record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People probably used this device to amplify sound and reduce the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. Obviously, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they provided some reasonable ability to limit distracting 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 popular means of treating hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go 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 quite large and unwieldy. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Again, these weren’t very efficient, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could channel 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 implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. 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 big, and not really wearable. The core principle 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 state-of-the art technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your purse or pocket, it’s a giant leap! The same impact was now possible with less bulky technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. Because of this advancement, people could easily 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 became smaller. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people needed 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 changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and clearer sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and efficient.
- 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. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And currently, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
History’s most advanced hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
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 beneficial. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.