When it comes to history, there are three different types of people: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you might think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. Consequently, people have been finding 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 wear them, can be gained by knowing some history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Mentions of hearing loss also begin showing up as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more difficult to treat then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult 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).
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage hearing loss. 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 is not complete. 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 measures in that direction.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this form of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen the impacts of hearing loss. The idea 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 hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prevalent form. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and unwieldy. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Once again, these weren’t super efficient, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they were able to channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not exactly wearable. The base idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came 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 made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your pocket or purse, it’s a huge leap! The same impact was now available with less cumbersome technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. As a result of this advancement, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. Most people 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 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 offering personalized amplification and better sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these tiny devices. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in the history of humanity. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.