Hearing Aids, a History

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

There are three types of individuals out there: those who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is horribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.

The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot weirder than you might think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human challenge that has been around as long as we have. Consequently, people have been uncovering clever ways to deal with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.

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

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

Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very start of human existence has been found by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals signs of ear pathologies. It’s rather amazing! Mentions of hearing loss also begin popping up as soon as written language is created (for example, there are many Egyptian sources that mention hearing loss symptoms).

So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was harder to manage then). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. You may lose touch with friends and family members. When humans were a little more primitive, neglected hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.

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

A timeline of hearing aid-type 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 immediate 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 first proto-hearing aids. People probably used this device to amplify sound and reduce the impact of hearing loss and evidence of this type of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly moved to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting external sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant form for centuries. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a popular means of managing hearing loss. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. They came in a large number of shapes and materials. Initially, they were large and cumbersome. Eventually, creative individuals developed smaller, more collapsible models of these ear trumpets, so people could bring them on the go. Once again, these weren’t very effective, 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 invented 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? Well, not so much. 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, at that time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also permitted better amplification and somewhat 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 giant leap! The same effect was now available with less cumbersome technology thanks to the development of the transistor. As a result of this advancement, people could conveniently 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. Hearing aids got substantially smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. Unfortunately, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. They just boosted all of the sound they picked up. 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: The first digital hearing aid was unveiled in 1982, though it was not commercially available until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered a better sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a smaller case. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and successful.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An growing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. Wireless, Bluetooth technology came first. And currently, modern hearing aids will utilize machine learning algorithms to help you hear better than ever. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!

History’s most advanced hearing aids

For centuries or longer, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to accomplish that with contemporary hearing aids. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more prominent than ever. A wide variety of hearing problems can be addressed.

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

Give us a call and make an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!



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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