Hearing aids have quite a long and interesting history and have gone through different stages, designs, concepts and technologies. However, their basic function to help those people with hearing loss has not changed but rather has evolved attempting to encompass as many cases as possible and to cover a wider range of hearing impairment severity.
The first mention of a hearing aid or similar device dates back to the 16th century. In the next two centuries the hard of hearing mainly used hearing aid trumpets to amplify sounds. These were made from seashells, glass, animal horns and later on from copper and brass. In the 18th century, the technology of bone conduction was implemented through fan-shaped aids, which were positioned behind the ear and transmitted sound vibrations through the bones of the skull to the brain. With time, however, people became more self-conscious and felt the need to hide their disability. That led to hiding or masking the hearing devices in clothes, special hairstyles or accessories.
The 20th century marked a revolution in hearing aid development with the introduction of electricity and the transistor. The devices started to have a carbon microphone and used batteries. New designs and technologies allowed hearing aids to become smaller and more powerful. In the mid-1990s digital technology prevailed over analogue (for most types of hearing loss). Hearing aids began to feature different sound modes for various environments, functions for background noise suppression and feedback, speech focus, etc. Moreover, society started to address the problem, more information on hearing loss was made available and people started to have better access to resources and choice of devices.
Modern hearing aids come in a variety of models, sizes and even colours and are quite easy to find and purchase. They can fit most lifestyles and can be custom made for the individual condition of hearing loss. Popular types include behind the ear, in the ear, completely in the ear, in the canal, bone conduction, bone anchored, CROS and BiCROS hearing aids. For severe cases, there are also cochlear implants available that require surgical intervention. Today, hearing aids are tiny and extremely powerful. They have multiple functions and many support wireless communication with other devices such as phones or induction loops.
Technology is still evolving and hearing aids are developing quickly. It is expected that hearing aids will interact even more with other technology, new mobile applications connected to hearing will be developed as well, and with the progression of the problem more insurance plans may consider including them in their packages. Moreover, there could be a time when gene therapy and stem cell research will find a way to cure hearing loss in some cases or help in creating hearing aids that may assist even profoundly deaf people.
In addition, predictions for the future of the devices include the inclination of more and more young people to completely avoid any stigma that is still associated with hearing impairment and treat hearing aids as both life changing devices and a fashion statement perhaps as has happened to the visual correction market.