B&W vintage pic man (Eddie Albert) & woman
B&W vintage pic man (Eddie Albert) & woman

The History of Hearing Aids

What Do You Really Know About Hearing Aids?

For many people, our image of hearing aids can be pretty unwieldy. Oddly enough, even though digital hearing aids have been in production for well over 25 years, the idea that hearing aids are bulky, conspicuous, uncomfortable, and prone to malfunction is still a pretty common one.

Why would this be? We can only assume that it’s because of our memories of relatives, friends or schoolmates who may have worn this technology, and our exposure to hearing devices hasn’t changed much since then.

What’s interesting is that hearing aids, in some form or another, have been in existence since at least the 17th century. Since then, we’ve learned so much more about how the body’s hearing system works and how we can use technology to embrace and support people with hearing difficulties to hear and communicate their very best.

Ear Trumpets

Though there may be technology that pre-dates the ear trumpet, these devices, the use of which reportedly began in the early 17th century, were an ingenious method for helping people with hearing difficulties capture sounds.

Made from a variety of materials, including wood, metal, mollusk shells and even animal horns, their conical shape acted as an extension of how the natural anatomy of our own outer ears capture sounds.

To be clear, ear trumpets do not make sounds louder; they make our ears bigger. They have no capacity to amplify sound; they simply widen the net, so to speak, giving the user a slightly broader capacity for capturing sound (similar to cupping your hand around your ear).

These devices became so popular that by the 1800s, there was an even wider variety of options for people who were hard of hearing. Collapsible options were available, and some designs were so ornate that they could be considered accessories with form and function.

There are some more economically depressed areas of the world where ear trumpets are still in use for people with hearing difficulties.

Hidden “Hearing Aids”

In the 19th century, learning from the popularity and effectiveness of ear trumpets, as well as similar hearing technology from the time, an increase in what are called “hidden hearing aids” came to be.

Some of the more common devices from this era include headbands, articles of clothing, accessories, and even furniture that featured “sound collectors,” which were designs based on capturing sound for the wearer or user while also drawing less attention to them as being a person with a hearing difficulty.

Electronic Hearing Aids

In the 1890s, just a few years after the invention of telephone and microphone technology came the world’s first electronic hearing aids.

Though it would still take several decades to truly take advantage of its potential for hearing aids, the development of the telephone was significant. For the first time ever, it allowed the possibility of increasing the volume of an acoustic signal.

What was even more exciting for those working to develop hearing aid technology was the telephone’s ability to affect volume, distortion, and specific frequencies of sound.

The true catalyst for advancements in electronic hearing aids? World War II, where technological need, resources and innovation converged to help miniaturize what many of us think of when we imagine a 20th-century hearing aid.

Transistor Hearing Aids

The development of transistors in the late 1940s meant that larger, bulkier components, like vacuum tubes, could be replaced, making the technology far lighter and more portable than ever before.

Though it was soon discovered that these transistors had many fragile properties (including sensitivity to body heat, sweat, and a vulnerability to water), they made way for more advanced versions of transistor technology and eventually the integrated circuit, which became a mainstay in hearing aids for decades to come.

Digital Hearing Aids

Believe it or not, certain digital hearing technology advancements began in the 1960s when digital processing capabilities for speech sounds were developed. The computers used were incredibly large and the processing was equally as slow, but it was a start.

Microprocessors were developed in the 1970s, further miniaturizing hearing aids into devices that became increasingly closer to modern hearing aid designs.

Though the first fully digital device would be created in the 1980s, analog or analog and digital hybrid components were still the standard in consumer technology. Digital hearing aids wouldn’t become the standard until well into the 90s.

The technology boom in the early 2000s also boosted hearing aid technology. Now, hearing aids are not only able to be fine-tuned to the wearer’s specific type of hearing loss, but they can also be paired with smartphones, tablets, TVs and more to stream sound directly to their devices via Bluetooth technology. GPS allows many hearing aids to automatically adjust to personalized sound settings in different locations, and if lost, hearing aids can be found.

Today’s hearing aids just keep getting better and better in terms of performance, clarity, and comfort. With so many amazing features, it’s hard to imagine hearing aid technology getting any better, but the amazing thing is it will! Don’t you deserve to learn how it can help you hear and feel your best? We think so!

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