There are three types of people out there: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they begin to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
The history of hearing aids is not about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot weirder than you might think. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to discover new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
An appreciation for your amazing little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by knowing some history about them.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Mentions of hearing loss also begin popping up once written language is created (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).
So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always sort of awful (especially when neglected). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.
Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to deal with 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 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 recorded. Even if we don’t have a published record of exactly what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification used, 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 limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prominent format. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a favored way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the small end in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were created. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the bigger versions. But they could funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually developed in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). This should begin 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! 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. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant 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 attain the same impact. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to take your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids got smaller. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. They just boosted 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: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while providing personalized amplification and better sound quality. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and successful.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of state-of-the-art technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
For centuries or more, we have been working on treating hearing loss.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so beneficial, these little devices are also more popular 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 better connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)
Give us a call and make an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!
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