When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of individuals: people who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and those who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange as well. 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 cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by learning a bit of history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of humanity. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s rather amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also start popping up as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (particularly when neglected). 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” type of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant to mention 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. 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.
But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and reduce 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. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prominent form. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. You could get them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). At first, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the larger versions. But they were able to 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 actually developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). 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 huge, and not exactly wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one time, 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. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also possible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was because of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same impact. As a result of this progress, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. They just amplified 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: 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 customize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development 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 little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For centuries or more, humans have been working on managing hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any time in the history of humanity. 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 problems.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.