When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of people: those who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly dull, and people who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been exploring clever ways to cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by knowing a bit of history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s rather amazing! Reports of hearing loss also start appearing once written language is created (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always sort of sucked (especially when neglected). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. Even if we don’t have a written record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures in that direction.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the impacts of hearing loss. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they give some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prevalent form. And that continued 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. You’d stick the small end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the bigger versions. But they could funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, 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! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were state-of-the art 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 slightly clearer sound.
- 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! The same impact was now available with less cumbersome technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. Because of this progress, people could easily bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable decrease in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 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 clearer sound quality. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and successful.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And today, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For centuries or more, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can attain 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 beneficial. They can help with a larger number of hearing problems.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your loved ones 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 discover what hearing aids can do for you!