From ear trumpets to high tech devices: The transformation of hearing aid technology

Steven Hale Hearing

In light of so many incredible advances in hearing aid technology, I thought I would take a few moments to reflect upon, and capture, just how far products in the world of audiology have evolved, from conception in the 19th century to our highly technological modern-day products.  So, 'hear' goes...

The first hearing aid was designed following Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone in 1876, as this included technology that could control the loudness, frequency and distortion of sounds. 

From this, Miller Reese Hutchinson created an electric hearing aid which used an electric current to amplify weak signals, and in 1913 the first commercially manufactured hearing aids became available on the world stage. As one would imagine, these were large and cumbersome, so work set about to miniaturise the devices, and these efforts were greatly enhanced with the invention of the transistor in 1948, which replaced the previously used vacuum tubes.

Development continued apace, and the 1970s brought with it the microprocessor and multi-channel amplitude compression, which paved the way for truly rapid development. For example, the 1980s ushered in high-speed processors and microcomputers, the 1990s welcomed the first all-digital hearing aid and the 2010s burst forth with the evolution of Bluetooth enabled technology.

Since then, there seems to have been an explosion of innovation which means that from the humble origins of sound amplification, we, as Audiologists, are now able to enhance not only your hearing experience, but also your quality of life. Hearing aids should probably, more accurately now, be referred to as ‘lifestyle devices’, as we have moved so far away from them being a single function unit.  Just to remind you, here are some features from modern devices which highlight this concept.

The newest range of products benefit from:

  • Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to take handsfree phone calls & stream Music directly into your ears
  • Adjustments to your aids via an App on your Phone
  • Healthable hearing aids with built-in heart sensors, step tracker, fall detection and goal setting functions
  • Waterproof technology
  • Rechargeable hearing aid
  • 100 per cent invisible aids which can be worn 24/7 for weeks

Whilst celebrating the amazing versatility and diversity of such devices, it is crucial to remember that as well as providing all of the above life enhancing functions, they also deliver incredible, unrivalled hearing experiences! Technology has evolved such that panoramic sound, as well as sound from the rear can now be detected and enhanced, which is vital not only for our social wellbeing, but also for our general health and safety, when out and about, on the road, or in crowds.

This brief, whistle-stop tour through hearing aid technology has been written so that we can appreciate just how far the journey has brought us all so far – it’s incredible to think that original devices were reliant on vacuum tubes! That, however, was an essential evolutionary step to the road to enabling hearing aids enhance lifestyle quality.

On a professional level, as an Audiologist, it excites me to see how far we have come, because I am a firm believer that lessons learnt from history can help shape the future. In professional forums, also as a member of the Association of Independent Hearing Healthcare Professionals (AIHHP), and from services provided within my clinic, I am continually seeking to solve problems more effectively, and create solutions to maximise your hearing ability. I welcome successful technology and embrace Audiological evolution. Bring it on!