When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of individuals: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot stranger than you may believe. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been exploring clever ways to cope with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their features, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by discovering some history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations such as 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 sort of awful (particularly when neglected). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and family members may become more distant. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to treat hearing loss for thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
It’s significant 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 relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and reduce the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this sort 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 reasonable ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent form for centuries. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the small end in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). Initially, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Since there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the larger 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. This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, 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 powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. 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. The same effect was now available with less bulky technology thanks to the development of the transistor. 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: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got significantly smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 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 a better sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a smaller case. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. 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 due to this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more prominent than ever before. A broad range of hearing problems can be addressed.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a stronger connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.
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