The History of Hearing Aids


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

When it comes to history, there are three distinct types of people: those who are very interested and fascinated by history, those whose eyes glaze over and they start to fall asleep when history is discussed, and people who think that aliens are responsible for history.

The history of hearing aids is not about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you may believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been trying to come up with new effective ways to handle 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 little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more frequently.

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

Evidence of hearing loss going 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 fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also begin appearing once 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 wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is especially true because it was harder to manage then). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. Friends and family members may become more distant. In a more “hunter and gatherer” type of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).

Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to treat hearing loss for thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!

A timeline of hearing aid-style devices

The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids isn’t complete. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. Even if we don’t have a written record of precisely 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: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this form of hearing device goes back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help reduce the effects of hearing loss. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. Clearly, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there is no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting external sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For centuries, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prominent format. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to manage hearing loss through the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d put the small end in your ear. You could get them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). At first, they were large and burdensome. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Since there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the bigger versions. But they could carry 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. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! The same technology that energized those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, once upon a time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also allowed better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a huge leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a pocket or purse sized one. This was the result of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same effect. As a result 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: As technologies improved, hearing aids became smaller. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. Consequently, they became more prominent and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still fairly rudimentary. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. Most people 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 available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete package. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. 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

For hundreds of years or longer, we have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can attain that better than at any point in human history. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.

So hearing aids can help you if you want to develop a stronger connection with your friends, loved ones, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)

Call us and schedule an appointment to discover what hearing aids can do for you!

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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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