Miniature electronic devices are part of our daily lives – smartphones, watches, speakers etc. Though these devices have become deeply integrated in how we live, this is a recent technological innovation. Just a few decades ago, it would’ve been hard to imagine that the power of an entire computer could comfortably sit in the palm of your hand. It may be surprising that the process of taking bulky electronic devices and drastically minimizing the size to fit into our pockets, hands, and ears was influenced by hearing loss! Hearing aid developers, commitmented to meeting hearing needs, were pioneers in electronic miniaturization.
Addressing the Stigma of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition that people experience today. Impacting over 48 million people, hearing loss is a public health epidemic. Though it is an incredibly common health issue, it remains widely underdiagnosed and undertreated. It takes an average of 7 years for a person to seek treatment from the time they start experiencing hearing loss symptoms. Contributing to this delay is the social stigma that is still associated with hearing loss. People often think that hearing loss only impacts older adults and that it is not that serious of a condition. It is also challenging to acknowledge changings to health, especially when it is seen as a sign of aging. This stigma has informed the development of hearing aids as people have wanted to be discreet about them condition. Hearing aids have gone from noticeable and bulky to sleek and nearly invisible. With the continuous innovation of hearing aids and greater awareness about the condition, hearing loss continues to become less stigmatized.
History of Hearing Aid Miniaturization
Imapired hearing has actually been a health issue for centuries. In fact, earliest skeletal evidence pointing to the existence of hearing loss dates back to over 10,000 years ago! It is hard to imagine how people decades ago, let alone centuries ago, treated hearing loss when today’s treatment relies on electronic hearing aids. Documented history of hearing aids reveals that as far back as the 17th century, hearing trumpets were used to help with hearing loss. This simple horn-like instrument which was a common device used back then, amplified sound but was glaringly visible. The desire to conspicuously address hearing loss continued to inform the development of hearing aid devices that could help amplify and process sound.
The invention of the telephone in the 19th century created new technology that was used to also make new hearing aids. Though they weren’t yet portable, the device became smaller than before. The invention of the transistor in 1948 fuelled the development of more modern hearing aid devices. Electronics were reliant on high-voltage circuits whose output determined how much power the device could emit. But the transistor made it possible to produce greater output voltage than input which paved the way for greater amplification in smaller units. Hearing aids were among the first instruments to utilize this technology to manufacture smaller and more portable devices. By the 1950s, hearing aids were able to fit behind the ear and also in the ear canal.
Analog to Digital and Beyond
Eventually, hearing aid manufacturers were able to make transistors out of silicon which allowed devices to be even smaller. By the 1960s the structure of hearing aids was established, consisting of the basic components: microphone, amplifier, and battery source. This relied on analog signals which came with various issues including increased feedback. The 1980s introduced the first digital processing chip that was able to deconstruct soundwaves. This technology continued to advance, creating the first digital hearing aids by 1996. Since then, countless innovations have changed the landscape of the hearing aid industry. Innovative technology has produced a wide range of features and capabilities that hearing aids are now equipped with. This includes Bluetooth connectivity, noise reduction capabilities, tinnitus management features, voice recognition technology etc. Additionally, hearing aid manufacturers have developed smartphone apps and voice assistants that allow people to manage hearing aid settings. Today’s hearing aids are savvier and more powerful than ever. As technology continues to advance, the future of hearing aids is exciting. Contact us to learn more about the latest hearing aid features and technologies.