When it comes to history, there are three different types of people: those who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly boring, and people who believe history is full of aliens.
The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty weird as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. People have, consequently, been attempting to discover new effective ways to handle hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their features, 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
Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can detect signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! 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 (especially when left untreated). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have neglected hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you may 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 very good successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s very 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 oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this form of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the effects of hearing loss. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct 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 outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, 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. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and unwieldy. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were created. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as effective as the larger versions. But they were able to funnel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really 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 no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were giant, and not exactly wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also enabled better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your pocket or purse, it’s a giant leap! This was because of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same effect. Because of this progress, people could conveniently bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies advanced, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a significant decrease in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. Sadly, the actual amplification was still rather basic. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully adopted and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the evolution of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. 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.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any point in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A wide variety of hearing issues can be managed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your loved ones or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Give us a call for an appointment.
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