There are three types of individuals out there: those who find history to be amazingly interesting, people who think history is terribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird too. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. As a result, people have been finding clever ways to deal with hearing loss for hundreds of years, 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 learning some history about them.
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 found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals signs of ear pathologies. It’s fairly cool! Reports of hearing loss also start appearing as soon as written language is created (for example, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (particularly when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage hearing loss. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids is not 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 precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and lessen the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. Clearly, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they provided some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the dominant form. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Again, these weren’t very efficient, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not exactly wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. The same impact was now available with less bulky technology as a result of 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: As technologies got better, hearing aids got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a substantial decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. 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 offering custom amplification and clearer sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development 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 cram more and more technology into these tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Contemporary hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any time in the history of humanity. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. They can help with a larger number 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.)
Give us a call and schedule an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!