When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of individuals: those who find history to be incredibly interesting, people who think history is terribly dull, and those who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the true story is probably pretty strange as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. People have, consequently, been trying to discover new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by learning a bit of history about them.
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. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. 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’s likely always sort of awful (particularly when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You may lose touch with friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to address 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 mention 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 documented. Even if we don’t have a published record of exactly what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures in that direction.
But here’s what we do know about the recognized hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this form of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the impacts of hearing loss. 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 limit distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant configuration for hundreds of years. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of treating hearing loss. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the small end in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). The early models were rather large and awkward. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were created. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the larger versions. But they were able to funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 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 employed for hearing aids until later). Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not exactly wearable. The base principle was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to 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 manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 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 significant leap! The same impact was now possible with less bulky technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to take your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people needed to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it wasn’t commercially available 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. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and eficient.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these tiny devices. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And currently, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
For centuries or more, we have been working on treating hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. 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 create a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Contact us and make an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!
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