When it comes to history, there are three distinct kinds of individuals: individuals who find history to be incredibly interesting, individuals who think history is horribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.
Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty strange too. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Consequently, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a deeper appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more often.
Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years
Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can see indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool! Civilizations like the Egyptians and even older groups were reporting hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more difficult to manage then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You might become alienated from friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you might also lose your ability to detect danger (resulting in a shorter lifespan).
So for 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
It’s important 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 written record of exactly what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took steps in that direction.
Still, here’s what the known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:
- 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this form of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen the effects of hearing loss. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. Obviously, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But it’s likely they give some moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent configuration for centuries. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a favored way to treat hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. You could get them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). The early models were rather large and awkward. 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 were able to channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be employed as hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Well, not so much. 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: 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 allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. New technologies also permitted better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
- 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 significant leap! This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you required less technological bulk to accomplish the same impact. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to take your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology advanced. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them simpler to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most people required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
- 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided improved sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller package. Treatment for hearing loss has become more effective since the development of digital hearing aid.
- 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these little devices. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And today, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
The best hearing aids in history
Mankind has been working on and bettering hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prevalent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your loved ones or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Call us and make an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!
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