Over 5% of the world’s population, or 466 million people, deal with disabling hearing loss, making it hard to maintain jobs and relationships. While there is still no cure for hearing loss it can be treated rather effectively using hearing aids.
Hearing aids amplify the specific tones, pitches and sounds in which the listener struggles with and sends them directly to the inner ear to be processed by the brain. Today’s hearing aids continue to advance with technology and those who rely on them may not be able to even imagine life without them!
What did we do before this amazing technology existed? Hearing loss has always been a part of human history. Lets review instances of hearing loss throughout history, to understand how far we’ve actually come.
Earliest Known Instances of Hearing Loss
The farthest back that archeologists have been able to uncover proof of hearing loss dates back more that 10,000 years ago. They uncovered a mass gravesite on Mount Bradost in Iraqi Kurdistan in Shanidar Cave. Some of the skeletons uncovered had bony growth in their ear canal, which audiologists call exostoses. Exostoses impact hearing ability significantly.
First Mention of Hearing loss in Writing
In script, mention of hearing loss first appeared scrawled on papyrus, the ancient paper of early Egypt circa 1550 BC. The document appears to be of medical content and refers to a remedy for the “ear that hears badly”.
The document recommends an injection of olive oil, red lead, ant eggs, bat wings and goat urine into the ears to relieve hearing loss. It is not clear if this was a remedy to clear a blockage in the ear causing hearing loss or perhaps a long-term cure.
While a home remedy to prevent a buildup of earwax is to use a small drop of olive oil, this ancient concoction is not a method that is still used today. Also uncovered on the papyrus was evidence that the disabled, including those with hearing loss were treated with respect.
First Mentions of Sign language
Monks in Burgundy employed the first mention of sign language used to communicate, in the 10th century. Because these monks were often sworn to silence, they used hand signals in which to communicate with each other. This was called Cluniac sign language. It is believed that Cluniac sign language was the inspiration for Ponce de Leon’s manual alphabet in which he developed for the school of the deaf nearly 600 years later.
Early Hearing Aids
The earliest mention of hearing aids was the horns of herd animals like goats and rams. In 1588 the Neapolitan scholar, Giambattista della Port described horns shaped like animal ears to enhance hearing. While the intent is unclear it is suspected that these horns were used to amplify sound similar to the ear horns invented in the 16th century by Paolo Apronino, a student of Galileo’s.
The Evolution of Electronic Hearing Aids
It was not till the late 1800’s that electricity began to be employed to aid in our hearing. The telephone was invented near the end of the 19th century, which provided the technology necessary for the first electronic hearing aids.
In 1898, these early electronic devices used a carbon transmitter and were so heavy that they were designed to sit upon a desk. More portable hearing aids were developed by 1920, using telephone transmitters to convert speech into electric signals, which were amplified in the inner ear.
As World War II pushed the need for communication technology further hearing aids were able to be designed even smaller and more portable, making them easier to use and increasingly popular.
The Arrival of Digital Technology
Today’s hearing aids use digital technology, which is small, light and transmits sound clearly, eliminating feedback. The first commercially available digital hearing aid was introduced in 1987 using high-speed digital array processors.
The use of digital technology allowed sound to be separated into bands of frequencies, which makes it easier to customize amplification for an individual’s particular hearing loss needs. Hearing aid technology continues to make leaps and bounds. The latest in hearing aid technology offers Bluetooth wireless capacity, noise cancelling ability and artificial intelligence. Contact us to discover how far we’ve come and to learn more about the latest hearing aid technology available!