There are three types of people out there: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start 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 the real story is probably pretty weird as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to come up with new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
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.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of mankind. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. 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.
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when neglected). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. 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’ve even managed some terrific successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized 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 goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen the effects 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. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But it’s likely they provided some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prevalent format. 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 put the narrow end in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and unwieldy. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the larger versions. But they were able to 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 no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The core idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also possible.
- 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 significant leap! The same impact was now possible with less cumbersome technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. As a result of this progress, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies got better, hearing aids got smaller. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still rather basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete case. 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 innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This began 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.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For hundreds of years or longer, humans have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a better connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.