Hearing loss treatment has come a long way in the past two decades, improving in leaps and bounds with the development of digital technology and sophisticated acoustic designs. The modern hearing aid owes its success and effectiveness to a long history of electric hearing devices, and even to the invention of the telephone. In fact it may be the case that trying to treat hearing loss is as old as hearing loss itself, though the often obscured history of a health problem that has followed humanity across eras and cultures.
How old is hearing loss? There is the possibility that for as long as there have been ears, they have been prone to problems and disabilities. In the Shanidar Cave archaeological site in Kurdistan, researchers have found the earliest evidence of hearing disorders. Skeletal remains on several subjects have been found exhibiting bony growths in their ear canal, a condition called exostoses. Several remains showed exostoses growths significant enough to indicate damaged hearing. These bones have been dated back to 10,000 years BCE. Going back even further, Neanderthal remains dates to around 40,000 BCE have shown similar exostoses.
The first time hearing loss was recorded in written history seems to be around the time of ancient Egyptian society. In the era around 1550 BCE, Egyptians expressed hearing loss as “the ear that hears badly” and even prescribed an elaborate remedy for the impairment, a witchy-sounding brew that included goat urine and insect eggs in its makeup.
When In Rome
Reference to hearing loss continued to occur in ancient writing (although only mentioned on rare occasions) throughout ancient Greece and Rome. Greek writing mentions hearing disabilities and signed language, although an elaborate account of cultural views and communication methods has yet to be found. In the records left by the Romans, mention is given to assistive hearing by cupping a hand around the back of the ear.
These records show the presence of individuals with hearing loss as well as tactics for managing hearing impairment. Records from this time also show a degree of intolerance towards people with hearing loss, citing them as less intelligent because of the limits of their impairment.
Although the medieval period of European history seems an unlikely place for innovation, it is where the first record of a developed sign language is found. Here, religious silence, rather than hearing loss spurred the innovation. Monks working under vows of silence developed physical signals to communicate with each other. Physical hand signal communication continued to develop through the ages and quickly made the leap to applications amongst deaf and hearing-impaired persons.
In the early Renaissance, the first records of horn-shaped hearing trumpets emerge. The hearing trumpet was a major development in assisting those with hearing loss. The horn’s natural amplification of sound shaped the history of hearing aids moving forward.
With the invention of the telephone in the late 1800s, the capacity to increase the loudness of a sound grew into the framework for building the first electrical hearing aids. The very first electric hearing aid was developed in 1898 and called the “the Akouphone” which used electric current to amplify sounds.
With the dawning of the electrical era, hearing technology rapidly increased its pace. While some of the very first electrical hearing devices were run with vacuum tubes, this eventually gave way to more portable transistor systems. In the late 1940s. Transistors conveyed sound more efficiently, but were still bulky and inconvenient.
The technological push headed towards smaller microphones and components to offer the user a lighter more discreet system. In the 1960s the first partially digital hearing aids came onto the market.
The Future Is Here
Hearing devices have continued their path of improvement with today’s devices containing tiny, efficient computer systems that help bring the listener a nuanced sound palette and can be custom programmed to adapt to individual hearing needs. Beyond hearing aids, there are many resources for people with hearing loss.
Here at Greentree Hearing & Audiology we know modern hearing aids inside out. If you have questions or concerns about your hearing its time to set up an audiology exam with Greentree. Our specialists will map your unique hearing ability, and tailor hearing treatment to your lifestyle needs. Working together, we’ll turn your hearing difficulty into a thing of the past!