When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of individuals: those who are very 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 responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot stranger than you may think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, 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 greater appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. Fossil evidence shows signs of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Which is to say, 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 deal with then). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. You might become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
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. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more easily carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning 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 dominant form. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. The small end would go in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the larger versions. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, 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). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, and not really wearable. The base concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered 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 improved amplification were also feasible.
- 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 development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to achieve the same effect. 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 simpler to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it wasn’t available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better 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 effective since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 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 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 effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Contemporary hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any time in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a stronger connection with your friends, loved ones, 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.