When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of people: people who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly boring, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t responsible for 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 humans have. As a result, people have been finding clever ways to manage hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of mankind. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like 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 kind of awful (especially when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You might become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they might not have been capable of detecting danger.
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. Even if we don’t have a written record of exactly what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the first 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 goes 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. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there’s 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 device was the prevalent form. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d put the small end in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). At first, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Again, these weren’t very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). 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 giant, and not really wearable. The base concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one point, 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 manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also enabled better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same effect. Because of this advancement, people could easily bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology advanced. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. 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 improved quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. And now, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective because of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For centuries or more, we have been working on managing hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A broad range of hearing problems can be managed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your family or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and schedule an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!
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