When it comes to history, there are three different types of people: those who find history to be amazingly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and those who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you may think. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Because of this, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by knowing a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals signs of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting 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 particularly true because it was harder to manage then). Communication will be a lot harder if you have untreated 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 for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage hearing loss. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s significant to note that we don’t have an exhaustive 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 written record of exactly what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the effects 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 working 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: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prominent format. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the small end in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). At first, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Once again, these were never super effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was developed but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not really wearable. The root idea was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now possible. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to attain the same impact. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to address 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 were a game changer, they offered a better quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful 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 stack more and more technology into these little devices. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
The best hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or longer, we have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in human history. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.