Hearing Aids 101: A Brief History of Hearing Aids

by | Nov 30, 2023 | Hearing Aids

Hearing aid technology has come a long way

Despite some ongoing stigma surrounding hearing aids in the U.S., many people are pleasantly surprised to learn just how far hearing aid technology has come over the last several decades. We’ve said goodbye to the days of extremely clunky, uncomfortable devices and hello to sleeker, higher-tech hearing aids that not only work extremely well but look good (or, in some cases, invisible), too. 

But, as excited as we are to have entered such an exciting time for the development of hearing aid technology, we can’t help but reflect occasionally on the history of hearing aids and how non-digital devices paved the way for the industry today.

Join us for a walk down memory lane and learn a little more about the history of hearing aids — you might appreciate what’s available now a little more afterward!

The first-ever hearing aid: Ear trumpets

Before electricity was even discovered, there was a record of people using a funnel-shaped device designed to collect and distribute sound waves into the ear called an ear trumpet as a way to hear more effectively. While there very well may be devices designed to do the same thing before them, ear trumpets are really the first recorded “hearing aid” we know about, and when you think about it, it was a very smart invention for the time!

Unlike today’s hearing aids — or even the hearing aids that were developed in the 19th century — the ear trumpet was not able to amplify sounds themselves. Instead, they made people’s ears bigger so that they could increase the capacity of sound that was captured, much like cupping your hand around your ear. 

Early ear trumpets were made of materials like wood, metal, mollusk shells, and animal horns, and, by the 1800s, ear trumpets were used very widely among hard-of-hearing individuals. Before long, inventors began experimenting with other ways to mimic the function of ear trumpets but in different forms, like clothing, accessories, and even furniture. These devices aim to collect sound for the user without making it obvious that they have difficulty hearing.

The first electronic hearing aids

While ear trumpets were in use for a long time (and are still used in some impoverished areas of the world)  they were no match for the invention of the telephone and microphone in the late 1800s. 

The telephone showed the possibility of taking acoustic signals and amplifying them — something that the ear trumpet was unable to do. This coupled with the technological boom of the 20th century led to the creation of the first electronic and transistor hearing aids. 

Transistors had a big impact on making technology in general more compact, and that includes hearing aids. Through some development to make transistor technology more durable to things like heat and fluid, the integrated circuit was born which was used in hearing aids for decades after.

Digital hearing aids of modern-day

Technological advances in the mid-1900s, especially the microprocessor, got the hearing aids we saw in the 1990s pretty close to what we have today, and hearing aid development has advanced even further since then.

Nowadays, hearing aids can not only capture and amplify sound (which was their original purpose) but they can also be tuned to very particularly match the hearing loss of each individual who wears them. What’s more, modern hearing aids can be paired with phones, televisions, and even GPS devices to further enhance the experience of those who use them.

While more severe cases of hearing loss often require more power and thus a larger hearing aid, mild-to-moderate cases of hearing loss can often be addressed with the smallest and most discreet hearing aids. Completely-in-canal (CIC) and in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids are barely noticeable to others, but they still contain very powerful technology that is highly effective for those with hearing loss.

Hearing aid technology can only go up from here

While we’ve come a long way since the ear trumpet days, what’s wonderful about the hearing aid industry is that manufacturers and researchers are continuously looking for ways to improve hearing aid technology for those with hearing loss, meaning the best is yet to come. And, we definitely need this technology to continue advancing.

It’s estimated that the prevalence of disabling hearing loss could grow by over 60% by 2050, and it’s important that technology can meet the increasing demand for hearing aids that is sure to come. And, with so many people already waiting too long to seek treatment for their hearing loss, improved hearing aid technology may prompt more people to seek help sooner rather than later in the future.

Choose from the best of the best in hearing aid technology with Colorado Ear Care

Over the years, our team of audiologists has worked with a ton of different hearing aid manufacturers, but, as an independent practice, we can choose to only work with the best manufacturers that consistently provide the best results. Our goal is to help our patients find the technology that best fits their needs and lifestyles.

If you live in the Denver area and are ready to see if hearing aids are right for you, then reach out to Colorado Ear Care today

Talk with one of our friendly hearing and balance professionals today.