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 discussed, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. 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. People have, as a result, been trying to come up with new effective ways to manage hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their features, 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 discovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of mankind. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! 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 sort of sucked (particularly when neglected). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. 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 (leading to a shorter lifespan).
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids is not exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. It’s very 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 recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest 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 reduce the impacts of hearing loss. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prevalent format. These “ear trumpets” were a favored way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go inside your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a startling range of shapes). The early models were quite large and unwieldy. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as effective as the bigger versions. But they could 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 really developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too large to be realistic or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! At one time, 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 feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same impact was now available with less bulky technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. 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: As technologies improved, hearing aids got smaller. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully adopted 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 providing custom amplification and better sound quality. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And now, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. 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 hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and schedule an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!