There are three kinds of individuals in the world: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start 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 weird as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. Consequently, people have been finding clever ways to deal with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should use them more often.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of humanity. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s rather 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’s likely always kind of awful (especially 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 (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to manage hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some great successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-type devices
It’s significant to note that we don’t have a complete 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 direct evidence of what that was.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the effects of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of 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 hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prominent form. And that persisted 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. The small end would go in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and unwieldy. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Once again, these weren’t super effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they were able to channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s these devices were too large to be realistic or wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now possible. New technologies also permitted 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. This was the result of the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to accomplish the same impact. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled 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 better sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction 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 currently, 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 most advanced hearing aids
Humanity 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. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A wide range of hearing issues can be addressed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and make an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!