The History of Hearing Aids

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

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

Aliens aren’t behind the history of hearing aids. But it’s most likely a lot weirder than you may think. Hearing loss is, after all, a human condition that has been around as long as we have. Because of this, people have been uncovering clever ways to cope 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 discovering some history about them.

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

Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. Fossil evidence shows signs of ear pathologies. It’s fairly cool! Civilizations such as the Egyptians and even older groups were writing about hearing loss for as long as writing has existed.

Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it wasn’t any better then than it is now (this is particularly true because it was harder to manage then). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You may lose touch with friends and loved ones. When humans were a little more primitive, untreated hearing loss could lead to a shorter lifespan as they might not have been able to detect danger.

Humans, thus, have had a great 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 isn’t complete. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not recorded. 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 recognized hearing aid timeline:

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Some of the oldest known proto-hearing aids were hollowed-out animal horns. People probably used this device to amplify sound and reduce the effect of hearing loss and evidence of this sort of device goes back to the 1200s. Sound would be more directly carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification used, so these animal horns weren’t functioning on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they give some moderate ability to reduce distracting sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent configuration for hundreds of years. And that continued into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of treating hearing loss. 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 startling range of shapes). The early models were rather large and awkward. Eventually, more portable versions that could be carried around with you were developed. Because there was still no amplification, they were roughly as efficient as the larger versions. But they could bring sound more directly to your ear.
  • 1900s: Electronic Amplification: Okay, here we go: the invention of the carbon microphone (okay, the carbon microphone was really invented in the late 1800s, but it wasn’t really employed for hearing aids until later). This should begin amplifying and make hearing aids a shoo-in for effectiveness, right? Not really. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The core principle was there, but the technology wasn’t refined enough to be truly practical.
  • 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! Relatively smaller hearing aids that were the size of a backpack were now feasible. New technologies also permitted 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 significant leap! The same effect was now available with less bulky technology thanks to the development of the transistor. Because of this progress, people could conveniently bring hearing aids with them wherever they went, it was a significant benefit!
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology improved. Hearing aids got considerably smaller in the 1970s and 80s. As a result, they became more prominent and easier to use. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. 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 offered a better sound quality, more ways to customize amplification, and the ability to pack everything into a smaller case. Treatment for hearing loss has become more successful since the development of digital hearing aid.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: Since the launching of the digital hearing aid, manufacturers have been able to stack more and more technology into these little devices. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. Today, contemporary hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. This integration with other technologies makes hearing aids more effective, and more convenient!

History’s most advanced hearing aids

Mankind has been working on and improving hearing loss for centuries, at least.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to accomplish that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so effective. A broad range of hearing issues can be addressed.

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

Learn how hearing aids can improve your life. Contact 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.