When it comes to history, there are three different 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 discussed, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you might think. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to find new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
Being aware of the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more difficult to deal with then). Communication will be a lot harder if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and family members may become more distant. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been capable of detecting danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to treat hearing loss for thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s relevant to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to alleviate hearing loss, even if there’s no immediate evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more easily carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Obviously, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there is 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 dominant format. These “ear trumpets” continued to be 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 inside your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, creative individuals created smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the larger 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 actually invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really implemented for hearing aids until later). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, and not really wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same impact was now available with less cumbersome technology as a result of the development of the transistor. As a result of this progress, 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 got smaller as technology advanced. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a substantial decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. Most people 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 wasn’t available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and clearer sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and successful.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. 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!
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Mankind has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to achieve that with contemporary hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A wide range of hearing issues can be managed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a stronger connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Call us and make an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!
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