The History of Hearing Aids

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

There are three sorts of people out there: people who find history to be amazingly interesting, people who think history is terribly boring, and those who think history is full of aliens.

The history of hearing aids is not about aliens (sorry not sorry). But the real story is probably pretty strange as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t really 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 hundreds of years, if not longer.

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

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

Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that dates back to the beginning of mankind. Fossil evidence shows indicators of ear pathologies. It’s rather amazing! Reports of hearing loss also start showing up as soon as written language is created (for instance, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).

So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (especially when left untreated). When you have neglected hearing loss, you will find it harder to communicate. Friends and loved ones may become more distant. When humans were a bit more primitive, neglected hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been capable of detecting danger.

Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to address hearing loss going back thousands of years. And they didn’t totally fail at this.

The progression of hearing aid like devices

The first thing to recognize is that our history of hearing aids is not complete. Throughout time, some of the developments in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. Even if we don’t have a published record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve 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 earliest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People most likely used this device to amplify sound and decrease the effect 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 involved, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they provided some reasonable ability to limit distracting sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prevalent format for hundreds of years. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to treat hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. They were called “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go inside your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising variety of shapes). The early models were quite large and unwieldy. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Because there was still no amplification, they were about as efficient as the larger versions. But they could channel 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 reliable and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s these devices were too large to be realistic or wearable. The root idea was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, extremely bulky television sets was actually cutting edge, at that time! These vacuum tubes allowed (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also enabled better amplification and slightly clearer sound.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your pocket or purse, it’s a giant leap! This was because of the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same effect. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: As technologies got better, hearing aids got smaller. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a substantial decrease in the size of hearing aids. This made them easier to use, and more popular. Sadly, the actual amplification was still pretty basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people required to successfully treat their hearing loss.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they offered improved quality of sound, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to package everything into a smaller case. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and successful.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of sophisticated technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were invented. This started out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!

The most sophisticated hearing aids in history

For centuries or more, humans have been working on dealing with hearing loss.
Contemporary hearing aids can achieve that better than at any point in the history of humanity. And because they’re so effective, these little devices are also more popular than ever before. They can help with a larger number of hearing problems.

So if you want to get back to connecting with your kids or your loved ones or the cashier at the supermarket, hearing aids can help you do it. (See? No aliens involved.)

Give us a call and schedule 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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