Louisville Family Audiology - Louisville, KY

People using ear horns or, older types of hearing aid devices, during a party.

When it comes to history, there are three different kinds of people: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes gloss over and they begin to fall asleep when history is mentioned, and people who believe that aliens are responsible for history.

The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty weird too. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been here as long as we have. People have, as a result, been attempting to find new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the dawn of our existence.

Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a greater appreciation of how your own tiny, digital devices work, and why you should wear them more frequently.

For thousands of years, people have been coping with hearing loss

Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very beginning of human existence has been found by archaeologists. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also begin showing up as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).

So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was harder to treat then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You might lose touch with friends and family members. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).

So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they didn’t totally fail at this.

The progression of hearing aid like devices

It’s important to mention that we don’t have an exhaustive history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded 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.

Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People probably used this device to amplify sound and decrease the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device goes back to the 1200s. The concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting external sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing apparatus was the prominent form. These “ear trumpets” continued to be a popular way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go inside your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). The early models were rather large and awkward. Subsequently, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Again, these weren’t super efficient, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. 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 no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too large to be realistic or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. Slightly clearer sound and better amplification were also possible.
  • 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 possible with less bulky technology as a result of the development of the transistor. Because of this advancement, people could conveniently bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a huge 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. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to manage their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
  • 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 providing personalized amplification and clearer sound quality. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. These days, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient because of this integration with other technologies.

The best hearing aids in history

Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any time in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. 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.)

Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact us for an appointment.

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References
https://hearinghealthfoundation.org/blogs/hearing-aid-history-ear-trumpets-european-royalty-earbuds

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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