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August 23rd, 2016 | General | by Andreas Seelisch

The History and Evolution of the Hearing Aid

The hearing aid has come a long way!

The hearing aid has come a long way since its early beginnings of being known as an ear trumpet. The idea of an ear trumpet can be found as far back as the 13th century. Back then people used hollowed out animal horns, seashells, and glass as hearing aids to amplify sound.

More sophisticated and more powerful ear trumpets became popular forms of hearing loss treatment by the 17th and 18th centuries. Ludwig Van Beethoven, who is said to have composed The Ninth Symphony when deaf, used an ear trumpet.

What did hearing aids look like?

These old-time ‘hearing devices’ came in many different shapes, sizes and designs. Many had funnel-like shapes at one end, while the other end was tapered down to fit in the ear.

Some devices were completely different and included bone conduction devices that sat right behind the ear. Sound would then be transmitted via vibrations through the skull to the brain. The hearing device would collect sounds waves and direct them to the small bones located behind the ear.

The quest for more invisible hearing aids

Over time people began wanting to conceal their ear trumpets. By the 1800s some designs incorporated hearing aids into hats, headbands, clothing, beards and big bouffant hairstyles.

Some hearing devices were even built into the thrones of members of royalty by way of a special echo chamber that emitted amplified sound through openings near a royal’s head. Some hearing aids were flesh or hair-coloured to further mask their existence.

The advent of electricity and the telephone help usher in a more modern hearing aid

In the early 1900s, the advent of electricity and the telephone would provide the foundation for the electronic hearing aid.

A carbon microphone amplified sound using a weak signal and then used electricity to make it stronger.

This new technology meant that hearing aids could be portable. However, hearing aids could still be very bulky by today’s standards with some being the size of a cigar box and their heavy batteries only lasting a few hours.

Vacuum tube and transistor hearing aids

Between the 1920s and 1940s a more portable hearing aid, using vacuum tube technology and requiring batteries, made its debut.

These hearing devices were followed by the transistor hearing aids from about the 1950s. Transistor hearing aids were considered to be a big step up for modern hearing instruments.

A transistor is a switch with on and off settings. These devices, made out of silicone, would transition hearing aids to ‘body aids,’ then to behind-the-ear, and then in-the-ear styles.

This type of analogue technology has limited ability to filter speech and noise, but still can be found today.

Digital hearing aids

From about the mid-1990s the digital hearing aid technology many people have become accustomed to became the order of the day. Unlike analogue hearing aids, this latest incarnation of the hearing aid uses Digital Signal Processing (DSP).

The result is drastically reduced size, including ‘invisible’ models, along with higher sound quality, superior noise filtering, and amplification capabilities.

Today’s modern hearing aids include wireless technology and Bluetooth, which allows you to connect to devices like your cell phone, television, or laptop.

Coming in an array of colours and styles, addressing different levels of hearing loss, today’s hearing aids provide custom hearing loss treatment.

Hearing aid technology has come a long way indeed.

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