There are three types of individuals out there: individuals who find history to be amazingly fascinating, individuals who think history is terribly dull, and people who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot stranger than you might believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. As a result, people have been finding clever ways to cope with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! 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’s likely always kind of awful (especially when left untreated). Communication will be a lot more difficult 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.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. Even if we don’t have a published record of exactly what ancient people did to alleviate 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 kind of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the impacts 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. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they provided some moderate ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant configuration for centuries. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and awkward. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Once again, these weren’t very effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really invented 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? Well, not so much. As of the early 1900s these devices were too large to be practical or wearable. The root idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 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 cutting edge technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and better 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 significant leap! This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to accomplish 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: As technologies advanced, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. Most individuals 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 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 personalized amplification and better sound quality. 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. This started 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.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For centuries or longer, humans have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A wide variety of hearing issues can be managed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create 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.