To amplify sound, imagine putting a horn in your ear or even hauling around clunky batteries for your hearing aids. Well, those options were once the only ones for hearing better. But hearing aids have gone through dramatic transformations over the last century. Features, size, and battery power are stunningly revolutionary, now versus then. Now, wearers have many options, including devices that are hardly noticeable to virtually invisible.
Bigger does not mean better for hearing aids
In the pre-19th century, as early as the 13th century, people used cumbersome ear trumpets to channel sound waves to the eardrum. Made in a variety of sizes and shapes, they consisted of various materials, such as wood, animal horns, snail shells, silver, and sheet metal. Then, in the late 1800s, Miller Hutchison invented the Akoulallion, the first electric hearing aid. However, it was so big that it had to be placed on a table. The device decreased to the size of a briefcase over the next several years, becoming portable. Next, Louis Weber developed the first Siemens device in 1911 to improve hearing. This device was called the Esha-Phonophor (middle photo). It was much smaller than Hutchinson’s invention and easier for people on the move to carry. Then, in 1938, the first wearable hearing aid was invented, with hearing aids only becoming smaller. Finally, from the 2000s to now, hearing aids have become so small that they either fit behind the ear or are custom-made and nearly invisible in the ear.
Disappearing problems with batteries
In the 1800s through the 1900s, hearing aids and their batteries were quite sizable. Even Hutchinson’s Akoulallion battery, which was re-designed, still required a big, six-volt storage battery. Weber’s Esha-Phonophor battery, much smaller, could fit in a purse. However, with the introduction of the transistor in the 1950s, a much smaller battery could be used but had to be affixed to the body. Then, in the 1970s, the hearing aid industry latched onto zinc batteries for wearable hearing aids. Small and powerful, they are still used and have a good battery life. In the 2000s to the present, zinc air batteries, thankfully without the mercury, remain in the industry as the most common of batteries. Their sizes vary, depending upon the hearing aid type.
Even better, rechargeable batteries exist. Nickel metal hydride batteries were the first rechargeable hearing aid batteries, but they paled in comparison to the lithium battery. Lithium ion technology has revolutionized the industry.
Hearing clarity improves and features are revolutionized
In the pre-19th century, ear horns were designed to capture more sound. You would stick the narrow end into your ear to funnel the sound to the eardrum. The features were not extensive, but they did come in numerous styles and sizes. In the 1800s through the 1900s, Hutchinson’s Akoulallion was inspired by the creation of the telephone and used a carbon transmitter known for its portability. An electric current heightened the sound. Contrastingly, the Esha-Phonophor, invented by Weber, was called a “sound catcher with two microphones.” Tones could be amplified without interference. It was also smaller and less noticeable. However, hearing aids could be placed right behind the ears with the invention of the transistor in the 1950s, and they could also be turned on and off. Sound quality and size became much better but hearing aids still didn’t have the features wearers truly wanted.
However, in 1987, good things happened. The first commercial digital hearing aid became available and offered more exciting features. This new innovation created a race among hearing aid manufacturers to outdo each other.
In the present, companies strive to enhance convenience and comfort. Hearing aids vary, depending upon the severity of hearing loss. Different lifestyle needs are also highly considered in the manufacturing process of hearing aids. The range of variability includes wireless connectivity, directional microphones, rechargeability, and speech clarity--just to name a few changes.
Improvements to hearing clarity have been achieved by subduing background noise, echoing, and wind interference. Furthermore, connectivity to smartphone apps and the creation of wearable accessories have made hearing aids even better and more enjoyable. So, we have come a long, long way in the improvement process, and it is only more exciting to see where we will go in the future. To learn more about hearing aid innovations, please contact one of our hearing aid instrument specialists at Pure Sound Hearing.