When it comes to history, there are three different types of people: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they begin to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.
Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the true story is probably pretty weird as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been attempting to find new effective ways to handle 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 learning some history about them.
For thousands of years, people have been dealing with hearing loss
Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the dawn of humanity. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Reports of hearing loss also start appearing once written language is created (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).
Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was more challenging to treat then). Communication will be much more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. 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 treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some terrific successes!
The progression of hearing aid like devices
The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids isn’t exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is documented through time. It’s likely that ancient humans did something to relieve hearing loss, even if there’s no direct evidence of what that was.
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 lessen the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device goes back to the 1200s. 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 used, so these animal horns weren’t working 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 apparatus was the prominent form. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of treating hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d put the narrow end in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, clever individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Once again, these were never very effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
- 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were big, and not really wearable. The root concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
- 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one time, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now possible. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
- 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. The same effect was now possible with less bulky technology as a result of the development of the transistor. Because of this advancement, people could conveniently take hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant advantage!
- 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. Consequently, they became more popular and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still rather rudimentary. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. Most people need something a little more fine tuned to manage 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 clearer sound quality. 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. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.
The most sophisticated hearing aids in history
Mankind 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 contemporary hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A broad range of hearing problems can be managed.
So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your loved ones or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)
Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.
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