There are three kinds of individuals out there: those who are very 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 strange as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to discover new effective ways to manage hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals signs of ear pathologies. It’s fairly cool! Civilizations like 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). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. Friends and family members 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 strong incentive to deal with hearing loss for thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the first proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the effects of hearing loss. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent configuration for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the small end in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the larger versions. But they were able to 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 employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being able to put one in your pocket or purse, it’s a giant leap! This was the result of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. Because of this advancement, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a substantial decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. 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: While not fully implemented and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a more discrete case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And currently, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
For hundreds of years or more, humans have been working on managing hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any point in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.
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.