There are three sorts of individuals out there: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But it’s probably a lot weirder than you may think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. As a result, people have been uncovering clever ways to deal 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 learning a bit of history about them.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of humanity. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Reports of hearing loss also begin showing up as soon as written language becomes a thing (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always kind of awful (especially when left untreated). Communication will be much more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been capable of detecting danger.
So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
It’s significant to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s 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: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. The idea 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 working 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 outside sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prevalent form. These “ear trumpets” were a favored way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the small end in your ear. They came in a wide variety of shapes and materials. The early models were rather large and awkward. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as effective as the bigger versions. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was developed but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in 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 cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. The same effect was now available with less bulky technology as a result of the invention of the transistor. Because of this advancement, people could easily bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still rather rudimentary. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering personalized amplification and clearer sound quality. 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: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!
The best hearing aids in history
Humanity has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A wide variety of hearing issues can be addressed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
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