The History of Hearing Aids

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

When it comes to history, there are three different types of people: individuals who find history to be incredibly fascinating, individuals who think history is terribly dull, and those who believe history is full of aliens.

The history of hearing aids isn’t about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s most likely a lot stranger than you might think. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as we have. People have, consequently, been attempting to discover new effective ways to cope with hearing loss since the beginning of our existence.

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

Hearing loss has existed for thousands of years

Evidence of hearing loss dating back to the very start of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. They can see signs of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s kind of amazing! Reports of hearing loss also start popping up as soon as written language becomes a thing (for example, there are numerous Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).

So, clearly, hearing loss is nothing new. And it’s likely always kind of sucked (particularly when neglected). Communication will be a lot harder if you have untreated hearing loss. You may become alienated from friends and loved ones. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they may not have been able to detect danger.

So for thousands of years, humans have had an incentive to figure out how to manage hearing loss. And they didn’t completely fail at this.

The progression of hearing aid like devices

The first thing to appreciate is that our history of hearing aids is not exhaustive. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. Even if we don’t have a written record of precisely what ancient people did to relieve hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures in that direction.

But here’s what we do know about the known hearing aid timeline:

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. 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 concept was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But they probably help focus the sound you want to hear and control distracting outside sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: For hundreds of years, the “cone shaped” hearing device was the prominent format. These “ear trumpets” were a popular way to manage hearing loss throughout the seventeenth century. These contraptions looked, well, like trumpets. You’d stick the narrow end in your ear. They came in a wide range of shapes and materials. At first, 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. Again, these were never super effective, because they didn’t amplify sounds. But they could carry sound more directly to your ear.
  • 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Alright, here we go: the development of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was actually invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). This should start amplifying and make hearing aids a no-brainer for effectiveness, right? Not really. As of the early 1900s these devices were too big to be practical or wearable. The root idea was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! The same technology that powered those old, incredibly bulky television sets was actually state-of-the-art, at that time! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also possible.
  • 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! The same effect was now possible with less cumbersome technology as a result of the development of the transistor. It became a substantial advantage, as a result of this technology, to take 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 considerable reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. Sadly, the actual amplification was still fairly basic. These hearing aids essentially just made everything louder. Most individuals need something a little more fine tuned to address their hearing loss, but it was still better than nothing.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: While not fully implemented and commercially available until 1996, 1982 was the year of the first digital hearing aid. Digital hearing aids were a game changer, they provided improved sound quality, more ways to personalize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a more discrete package. With the introduction of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more robust and effective.
  • 2000s (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 out with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by using machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more efficient, and more convenient!

The most sophisticated hearing aids in history

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

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

Find out how hearing aids can improve your life. Call us for an appointment.


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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