Hearing Aids: Then and Now

Hearing Aid Technology
Then and Now

     Hearing devices have come a long way since the ear trumpets of the late 1800's! As with many of the conveniences we take for granted today, the industrial revolution also had a positive impact on the way hearing aids have evolved since the turn of the century.

     With the advent of the telephone, the technology was adapted to make improvements in hearing aids. One of the first devices was the Phonophor developed by Werner von Siemens in 1878. Several years later Siemens took advantage of electrical energy to further advance hearing devices, particularly volume control. By 1914 the Siemens & Halske Company introduced a device worn in the ear that was essentially a small telephone. Devices based on this technology and design continued to be used until the 1960s.

     In 1949 pocket sized-hearing instruments became popular as a result of transistors. With this advancement, the goal was to find a way to make the device smaller and work closer to the ear itself. One such approach was to attach aids to eyeglass frames. A mere 10 years later the first behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid was developed allowing the user to have a more discreet device that amplified sound through a tube that connected to an ear mold.

     By the mid-1960s, as miniaturization progressed, hearing devices became partially concealed as in-the-ear (ITE) aids. In 1979 butterfly circuit technology allowed the electronic component to be folded which further conserved space.

     Although size and quality had improved, hearing device wearers were plagued by noise being amplified equally between the aids. This meant loud background noise was also enhanced making it difficult to understand even though a sound was heard. In 1987 the first remote device was available which allowed the user to control the settings on their aids to adapt to their environment.

     Artificial intelligence is found in many of today's advanced hearing devices. This sophisticated technology is unique in that two aids can now communicate with each other to determine where voices are located, reduce background noise, and make speech understanding easier- much like normal hearing. They are designed to reduce background noise, extract a voice from other noises in an environment, shape sounds to fit to an individual's hearing loss, increase the clarity of voices, and much more automatically. In addition, many devices are wireless, meaning they have connectivity capabilities allowing ease of use with cell phones, iPods, computers, and even GPS. Interestingly, as the technology has made such great advances, also the size of hearing devices have become small and sleeker.     

     Finally, people often ask about tinnitus or ringing in the ears and whether or not hearing aids would help. Although it does not work for everyone, hearing devices have been beneficial for approximately 80% of individuals as a form of tinnitus therapy. It is recommended that a hearing evaluation be performed by a licensed audiologist who can determine if there is any associated hearing loss and during their consultation make recommendations appropriate to your specific situation.