Hearing Associates of Libertyville, IL

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

There are three kinds of people out there: those who find history to be amazingly interesting, people who think history is horribly dull, and those who think history is full of aliens.

Aliens aren’t responsible for the history of hearing aids. But the true story is probably pretty strange too. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Because of this, people have been finding clever ways to cope with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.

An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to use them, can be gained by discovering a bit of history about them.

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

Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. Fossil evidence shows signs of ear pathologies. It’s kind of amazing! Reports of hearing loss also start showing up once written language becomes a thing (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).

Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was more challenging to treat then). Communication will be a lot harder if you have neglected hearing loss. You may become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been capable of detecting danger.

So going back thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to learn how to treat hearing loss. And they’ve even managed some very good successes!

A timeline of hearing aid-style devices

The first thing to know is that our history of hearing aids is not exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. 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: Hollowed out animal horns served as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this form 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 that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. Obviously, this device isn’t working on the level of a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant configuration for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” were a favored way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the small end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were created. Again, these were never super efficient, because they didn’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 developed but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Hello, vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were cutting edge technology. These vacuum tubes allowed (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 purse or pocket sized one. The same effect was now available with less cumbersome technology thanks to the invention of the transistor. Because 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: Hearing aids became smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. This made them easier to use, and more prevalent. Sadly, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most individuals required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
  • 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 custom amplification and clearer sound quality. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and successful.
  • 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 invented. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity 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 efficient 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, at least.
Modern hearing aids can attain that better than at any time in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. They can help with a larger number of hearing issues.

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

Call us and make an appointment to learn 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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