When it comes to history, there are three different types of individuals: those who are really interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the real story is probably pretty weird as well. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been attempting to discover new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.
An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by learning a bit of history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
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 rather amazing! Civilizations such as 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’s likely always sort of sucked (particularly when neglected). Communication will be a lot harder if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may 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 didn’t completely fail at this.
A timeline of hearing aid-style devices
It’s relevant to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. 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: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and reduce the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device dates back to the 1200s. Sound would be more easily moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they provided some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
- 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prominent format. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a favored way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. The narrow end would go in your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). At first, they were large and burdensome. Subsequently, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Once again, these weren’t very efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could funnel 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 implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or wearable. The core idea 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 powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be manufactured, the size of a backpack. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also feasible.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same impact was now available with less cumbersome technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
- 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. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. Most individuals 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 introduced in 1982, though it wasn’t commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided improved quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller case. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and efficient.
- 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 developed. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And currently, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Better than at any other point in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.
So hearing aids can help you if you want to create a better connection with your friends, loved ones, 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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