When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: 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 believe that aliens are responsible for history.
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 exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. Consequently, people have been uncovering clever ways to deal with hearing loss for centuries, 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 discovering some history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss dating 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! Civilizations such as 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’s likely always kind of awful (especially when left untreated). Communication will be much more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You may lose touch with 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 learn how to treat 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 isn’t complete. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. Even if we don’t have a written record of exactly what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used 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 concept 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 working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prevalent format. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go inside your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and awkward. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as effective as the larger versions. 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 really developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). 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 large to be practical 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 point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also enabled 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 as a result of the development of the transistor. It became a huge 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 advanced. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids basically 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 implemented 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 providing custom amplification and better sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. These days, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
The best hearing aids in history
For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A wide variety of hearing problems can be managed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your loved ones or the cashier at the supermarket, 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.