Hearing Aids, a History

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

There are three types of people in the world: those who find history to be incredibly fascinating, people who think history is terribly boring, and people who believe history is full of aliens.

The history of hearing aids is not about aliens (sorry not sorry). But it’s probably a lot stranger than you may believe. After all, hearing loss isn’t really a new thing; it’s been around as long as humans have. Consequently, people have been finding clever ways to deal with hearing loss for centuries, if not longer.

An appreciation for your incredible little digital devices, their functionality, and why it’s important to wear them, can be gained by learning some history about them.

Hearing loss has been around for thousands of years

Evidence of hearing loss going back to the very beginning of human existence has been discovered by archaeologists. Fossil evidence reveals indicators of ear pathologies. It’s pretty 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).

Which is to say, hearing loss isn’t new. And it’s likely always sort of sucked (particularly when neglected). Communication will be a lot more difficult if you have untreated hearing loss. You might lose touch with friends and loved ones. In a more “hunter and gatherer” style of society, you may also lose your ability to detect danger (leading to a shorter lifespan).

Humans, thus, have had a strong incentive to address hearing loss for thousands of years. And they didn’t completely fail at this.

The progression of hearing aid like devices

It’s significant to mention that we don’t have a complete history of the hearing aid. Throughout time, some of the advancements in hearing aid technology were simply not documented. Even if we don’t have a published 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: Hollowed out animal horns were used as some of the first proto-hearing aids. People most likely 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 easily carried to the ear with the funnel shaped horn. There was no amplification involved, so these animal horns weren’t working on the same level as a modern hearing aid (obviously). But it’s likely they give some reasonable ability to reduce distracting sounds.
  • 1600s: Ear Trumpet: The “cone shaped” hearing aid was the dominant format for hundreds of years. And that persisted 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. You’d put the small end in your ear. You could find them made out of a wide array of materials (and with a surprising range of shapes). The early models were quite large and awkward. Eventually, more portable models that could be carried around with you were created. Again, these weren’t super effective, because they couldn’t amplify sounds. But they could channel sounds into your ear, and direct sound more intentionally toward you.
  • 1900s: Electronic Amplification: In the late 1800s, the carbon microphone was developed but wouldn’t be implemented into hearing aid technology until early the 1900s. Their ability to amplify should have made hearing aids reliable and practical, right? Not really. In the early 1900s, these devices were huge, and not exactly wearable. The root principle was there, but the technology wasn’t fine-tuned enough to be truly practical.
  • 1920s: Wearable Hearing Devices: Then came vacuum tubes! At one point, believe it or not, those vacuum tubes that energized those bulky television sets were state-of-the art technology. Relatively smaller hearing aids that were about the size of a backpack were now feasible. Slightly clearer sound and improved amplification were also feasible.
  • 1940s: Pocket-Sized Hearing Aids: From fitting a hearing aid in a backpack to being capable of putting one in your purse or pocket, it’s a huge leap! This was because of the invention of the transistor, which meant you needed less technological bulk to accomplish 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 advanced. The 1970s and 80s, particularly, saw a significant reduction in the size of hearing aids. As a result, they became more popular and easier to use. The amplification, unfortunately, was still very basic. They just increased the volume of all of the sound they picked up. It was better than nothing, but still not quite what most people needed to effectively treat their hearing loss.
  • 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 personalize amplification, and the ability to put everything into a more discrete case. With the advent of digital hearing aids, treatment for hearing loss became much more effective and successful.
  • 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. Hearing aids are more convenient and more effective as a result of this integration with other technologies.

History’s most advanced hearing aids

For centuries or longer, we have been working on treating hearing loss.
Modern hearing aids can achieve that better than at any point in the history of humanity. These little pieces of technology are more popular than they ever have been because they’re so beneficial. A wide variety of hearing issues can be managed.

So hearing aids can help you if you want to have a stronger connection with your friends, family, or the clerk at your local pharmacy. (See? No aliens involved.)

Give us a call and schedule an appointment to find out what hearing aids can do for you!


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.


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