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 distinct kinds of individuals: people who find history to be incredibly fascinating, people who think history is terribly boring, and people who think history is full of aliens.

The history of hearing aids isn’t full of aliens (sorry not sorry). But the true story is probably pretty weird as well. After all, hearing loss isn’t exactly a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Consequently, people have been uncovering clever ways to deal with hearing loss for hundreds of years, if not longer.

Knowing the history of your hearing aids can give you a better appreciation of how your own little, digital devices work, and why you should use them more often.

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

Archaeologists have found evidence of hearing loss that goes back to the beginning of humanity. They can detect indicators of ear pathologies in fossil evidence. It’s fairly cool! Mentions of hearing loss also start appearing as soon as written language is created (for example, there are many Egyptian sources that discuss hearing loss symptoms).

Obviously, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of sucked (particularly when neglected). When you have untreated hearing loss, you will find it more difficult to communicate. You may become alienated from friends and family members. When humans were a bit more primitive, untreated hearing loss could result in a shorter lifespan as they might not have been able to detect danger.

Humans, thus, have had a great incentive to treat 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 know is that our history of hearing aids is not exhaustive. Not all evidence of hearing devices is recorded through time. Even if we don’t have a published record of exactly what ancient people did to alleviate hearing loss, it’s very likely that they took measures in that direction.

Still, here’s what the recognized “hearing aid timeline” looks like:

  • 1200s: Animal Horns: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the earliest proto-hearing aids. Evidence of this type of hearing device dates back to the 1200s, and it’s likely people used them to help lessen the impacts of hearing loss. The idea was that the funnel-shape of a hollowed out animal bone would help conduct sound more directly into the ear. Clearly, this device isn’t working like a modern hearing aid because there’s no amplification. But they most likely help focus the sound you want to hear and limit distracting outside sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the prominent configuration for hundreds of years. And that persisted into the seventeenth century, when “ear trumpets” became a desirable means of managing hearing loss. They were known as “ear trumpets” because, well, that’s what they looked like. The narrow end would go inside your ear. You could get them made out of a variety of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). Initially, they were large and cumbersome. 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 carry sound more directly to your ear.
  • 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was invented but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids effective and practical, right? Well, not so much. In the early 1900s these devices were too big to be realistic or wearable. The technology would need quite a bit of refinement before it would be very useful.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Say hello to vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that powered those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. These vacuum tubes permitted (relatively) smaller, wearable hearing aids to be made, the size of a backpack. New technologies also enabled better amplification and somewhat clearer sound.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: It’s a giant leap from a backpack sized hearing aid to a purse or pocket sized one. This was due to the development of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to attain the same effect. It became a huge advantage, as a result of this technology, to bring your hearing aid with you wherever you went.
  • 1970s and 1980s: Hearing Aids Get Smaller: Hearing aids got smaller as technology improved. The 1970s and 80s, in particular, saw a substantial reduction in the size of hearing aids. This made them simpler to use, and more popular. The amplification, sadly, was still very basic. They just amplified all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not really what most individuals required to effectively treat their hearing loss.
  • 1982: Digital Hearing Aid: The first digital hearing aid was introduced in 1982, though it was not available commercially until 1996. Digital hearing aids changed the hearing aid landscape by making everything smaller and more discrete while offering custom amplification and clearer sound quality. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more potent and effective.
  • 2000s (and Beyond): Hearing Aids Get Wireless and Smart: An increasing amount of innovative technology has been put into these digital hearing aids since they were developed. Wireless, Bluetooth connectivity came first. Today, modern hearing aids will help you hear better than ever by utilizing machine learning algorithms. Hearing aids are more convenient and more efficient due to this integration with other technologies.

History’s best hearing aids

For hundreds of years or longer, we have been working on relieving hearing loss.
Better than at any other time in history, we are able to achieve that with modern hearing aids. These little pieces of technology are more prominent than they ever have been because they’re so effective. They can help with a larger number of hearing problems.

So if you want to get back to connecting with your children or your family or the cashier at the supermarket, 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.