There are three sorts of people out there: people who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is terribly boring, and people who think history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot stranger than you might think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. Consequently, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of mankind. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of sucked (particularly when neglected). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. You might lose touch with friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).
So for 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 relevant to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to relieve 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: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the first proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this type of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the effects 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 used, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant 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 narrow end in your ear. You could get them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a startling range of shapes). Initially, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Once again, these weren’t super efficient, 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: 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 effective and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being able to put one in your pocket or purse, it’s a huge leap! This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. Because of this progress, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better quality of sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This began with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And today, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient due to this integration with other technologies.
History’s best hearing aids
For hundreds of years or more, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can attain that better than at any point in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.
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