There are three kinds of people out there: individuals who find history to be amazingly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and people who believe history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. People have, as a result, been trying to find new effective ways to manage hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by learning a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of humanity. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s pretty cool! Mentions of hearing loss also begin showing up as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are numerous Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when neglected). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit 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 treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids is not complete. 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.
Still, here’s what the recognized “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 kind of hearing device goes 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. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But it’s likely they provided some moderate ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prevalent format. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a favored way to treat hearing loss through the seventeenth century. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. The narrow end would go in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. At first, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, creative 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 bigger versions. But they could funnel 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 start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical 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 point, 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. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same impact was now available with less bulky technology thanks to 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: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. 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 implemented and commercially introduced 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 introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and successful.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
The best hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Modern hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any time in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A wide range of hearing issues can be addressed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your loved ones or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Discover how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.