The History of Hearing Aids

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

There are three kinds of people in the world: people who find history to be amazingly interesting, people who think history is terribly dull, and people who believe history is full of aliens.

The history of hearing aids is not full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot stranger than you might think. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. As a result, people have been finding 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 existed for thousands of years

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the dawn of humanity. (They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s pretty cool!) Mentions of hearing loss also start popping up once written language becomes a thing (for example, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).

Which is to say–hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (especially when left untreated). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You may lose touch with friends and loved ones. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).

Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they’ve even managed some great successes!

A timeline of hearing aid-style devices

It’s important to note that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. It’s 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 known “hearing aid timeline” looks like:

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help minimize the impacts of hearing loss. The idea was the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help move sound more directly into the ear. 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 moderate ability to limit distracting sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant form for hundreds of years. And that continued into the seventeenth century, where “ear trumpets” became a popular means of treating hearing loss. These devices looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. You could find them made out of a variety of materials (and with a startling variety of shapes). At first, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, clever individuals created smaller, more collapsable versions of these ear trumpets, so people could take them on the go. Again, these were never super effective–because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could funnel sounds into your ear–and direct sound more intentionally towards you.
  • 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, 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 implemented for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a shoe in for effectiveness, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge–and not exactly wearable. The core concept was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, 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 slightly clearer sound.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being able to put one in your purse or pocket–it’s a huge leap! This was due to the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to achieve the same impact. As a result of this advancement, people could easily take hearing aids with them wherever they went–it was a huge advantage!
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies improved, hearing aids got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a significant decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use–and more popular. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty rudimentary. These hearing aids basically just made everything louder. It’s better than nothing, but still not quite what most people needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully adopted and commercially introduced until 1996, 1982 is the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer–they offered better quality sound, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete case. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
  • 2000’s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the introduction of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to cram more and more technology into these tiny devices. This started with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. And now, modern hearing aids will use machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective–and more convenient!

The best hearing aids in history

Humanity has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries–if not longer.
Modern hearing aids can accomplish that better than at any point in human history. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever. They can help with a wider range of hearing issues.

In other words, these are tiny little miracles you can put in your ear!

So if you want to get back to reconnecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the checkout lane, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)

Get the latest and greatest hearing aid technology by searching providers near you.

Want more information?

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