There are three kinds of individuals out there: those who are really 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 behind the history of hearing aids. But the true story is probably pretty weird too. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been trying to come up with new effective ways to cope 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.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of mankind. Fossil evidence shows signs of ear pathologies. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when left untreated). Communication will be a lot harder if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you might 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 treat hearing loss. And they didn’t totally fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. It’s very likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate 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 served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and lessen the impact 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 move sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent form for centuries. These “ear trumpets” were a favored way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the larger versions. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 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. In the early 1900s these devices were too large to be practical or 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 energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now feasible. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also possible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being able to put one in your purse or pocket, it’s a huge leap! This was because of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to accomplish the same impact. As a result of this advancement, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant benefit!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty 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 unveiled in 1982, though it was not commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete case. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and efficient.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And now, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
History’s best hearing aids
For hundreds of years or longer, humans have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any time in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A wide variety of hearing problems can be addressed.
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.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.