Not long ago, hearing aids might have been thought of as the stuff of science fiction. In the early 1800s, people with hearing loss would carry around large horn shaped funnels (also known as ear horns) to press against their ears during conversations. This approach began centuries earlier when people would actually hollow out animal horns to try and boost their hearing. Imagine having to explain that at a party.
Enter the first electronic hearing aid near the turn of the 20th century. These early devices used carbon transmitters to amplify sounds. By today’s standard they were clunky and poor quality, but they represented a huge shift in hearing health care options. Over time, the technology changed from carbon transmitters, to eventually transistors, which allowed hearing aids to go from a large table top box, to a device small enough to sit behind your ear. There was even a trend around the 1950s to build your hearing aids into your glasses, though this fizzled out soon enough.
In more modern times, the big shift focused on using digital technology in hearing aids, allowing huge advancements in signal processing and in making hearing aids smaller than ever. Today’s hearing aids are very discreet and are better able to mimic how your brain actually processes incoming sound. Additionally, we now have a world of other technologies, including cochlear implants for people whose hearing loss is beyond the limits of hearing aids, and devices to make living with a hearing loss easier and safer (think amplified telephone, fire alarms, and door bells). In the world of audiology, new and improved technologies are always on the horizon – one can only wonder, what’s next?