When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of people: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they begin 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 it’s most likely a lot weirder than you might think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been trying 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 wear them, can be gained by knowing 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. Fossil evidence shows signs 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.
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more challenging to deal with then). When you have untreated 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 (leading to a shorter lifespan).
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to manage hearing loss. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this form of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the effects of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent form for centuries. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d put the narrow end in 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 unwieldy. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the larger versions. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually 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 too big to be realistic or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, 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 significant leap! This was the result of the development of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. Because 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: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to address their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided a better quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a more discrete case. 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: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. And now, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient due to this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
Humanity has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Contemporary hearing aids can attain that better than at any point in human history. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Call us and make an appointment to learn what hearing aids can do for you!