When it comes to history, there are three different kinds of individuals: people 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 it’s probably a lot weirder than you may believe. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. As a result, people have been exploring 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 wear them, can be gained by learning some history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of mankind. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like 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 sucked (particularly when neglected). Communication will be much harder if you have neglected hearing loss. You may lose touch with friends and family members. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids is not complete. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
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 probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device goes back to the 1200s. 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 on the level of a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the dominant format. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go inside your ear. You could get them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the larger 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 developed but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The root concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your purse or pocket, it’s a huge leap! This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same effect. 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 got smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just amplified 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 adopted and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and successful.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology 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 effective because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s most advanced hearing aids
For centuries or longer, humans have been working on treating hearing loss.
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 effective. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and schedule an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!