There are three types of individuals out there: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been here as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to find new effective ways to deal with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more frequently.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. It’s rather amazing! Reports of hearing loss also begin popping up as soon as written language is created (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
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 much more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You might lose touch with friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been capable of detecting danger.
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant to note that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. It’s 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 decrease 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 it’s likely they give some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the dominant form. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The small end would go inside your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the bigger versions. But they could channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 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. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were large, 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 point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat 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 possible with less bulky technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. As a result of this advancement, people could easily bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. They just amplified 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: 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 better sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 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 began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And currently, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Contemporary hearing aids can attain that better than at any time in human history. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. They can help with a wider range of hearing problems.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.
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