In actuality, approximately 15 percent of American adults report some trouble hearing (source). Records of hearing loss go back for generations, and humans have been working to develop a solution for just as long. Fortunately, hearing assistance has come a long way, which is obvious when you dive into the history of hearing devices.
Did George Washington Wear Hearing Aids?
The History of Hearing Devices
Early Hearing Assistance
Hearing loss has impacted people for centuries, as evidenced by early ear trumpets made out of animal horns. In the 18th century, medical professionals decided to streamline this technology into the first modern funnel-shaped ear trumpet. These trumpets worked by “funneling” sound through a narrow tube into the ear. Although these early hearing devices looked a little cartoonish, they were likely used by several famous historical figures, including George Washington, who suffered from hearing loss late in life.
The First Hearing Aids
When the telephone was invented in the 19th century, people with hearing loss quickly realized that it was easier to hear through a phone receiver than it was to converse with someone face-to-face. Thomas Edison, who also suffered from hearing loss, used this knowledge to create a carbon telephone transmitter. That transmitter increased the phone’s decibel (dB) level by about 15 dB, which paved the way for early carbon hearing aids.
Vacuum Tubes Amplify Sound
By the 1920s, vacuum tubes were able to increase hearing aid sound levels by as much as 70 dB, controlling the flow of electricity better than carbon. However, these early devices were also about the size of a filing cabinet, which obviously wasn’t practical. As hearing aid technology developed, the devices shrank – until 1938, when Aurex introduced wearable hearing aids fueled by a battery pack that strapped to the user’s leg.
Modern and Digital Options
Hearing aids shrank yet again in 1948, when Bell Telephone Laboratories invented the transistor. Transistors can start and stop the flow of a current, allowing for multiple hearing aid settings in one device. These transistors allowed hearing aids to be worn inside or behind the ear, which greatly improved quality of life for individuals with hearing loss.
In-ear hearing aids were improved by Zenith Radio in the 1960s, when the company introduced an in-ear microphone connected to an amplifier and battery unit. Then, in the 1980s, digital signal processing chips paved the way for digital hearing aids. The first fully digital hearing aid model was introduced in 1996. By the year 2000, hearing aids were fully programmable.
If there’s one thing we can learn from the history of hearing aids, it’s that hearing assistance has come a long way. Today’s hearing instruments are much more than just hearing aids because they allow patients to adapt to different environments, even connecting with computers, televisions, and cell phones. If a patient already uses a Smartphone today, modern hearing instruments become a Bluetooth headset and can wirelessly stream phone calls, music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc. to both ears using the patients’ hearing prescription, which provides the best sound possible for all audio purposes. And with Lithium-Ion rechargeable hearing instruments, there are no cumbersome batteries to change!
When you’re ready to schedule a hearing evaluation or to upgrade your current hearing aids, reach out to Sound Relief Hearing Center in Colorado or Arizona. We are independently owned, so we always have the patient’s best interest at heart. Plus, our state-of-the-art technology ensures that our patients receive the best treatment available. With our unparalleled excellence in the hearing industry, our dedication to patient care, and our commitment to helping people control and conquer their hearing issues, you can count on Sound Relief Hearing Center. To learn more about us, please browse our website, visit our YouTube channel, or give us a call at 720-344-7600. You can also schedule an appointment online to meet with one of our audiologists. We look forward to hearing from you!