Fitting hearing aids today is a joy. The flexibility of the programming, the feedback control and all the automatic processing make them better than they have ever been. Just how did we get here?
The first electronic hearing aids were produced in the 1800’s using technology invented by Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Carbon transmitters changed acoustic sound into electrical sound. The units were often so large that they had to stay in one spot. One model, the Akou- phone, in 1898 sold for $400 (adjusted for inflation that is over $11,000!).
Vacuum tube hearing aids were created in the 1920’s but they still had very large batteries and could weigh as much as 7 pounds. By the 1930’s and 1940’s the aids were small enough to be worn.
In the 1950’s transistor hearing aids became available. They first had terrible moisture problems and would die after just a few weeks. When that issue was fixed, the units were small enough that they were incorporated into the stems of eyeglasses and later they were available behind the ear.
The next big revolution in hearing aids didn’t come until the 1990’s when digital hearing aids were introduced. Now, with just a few notable exceptions like Lyric, just about all hearing aids on the market are digital. The computer chips in devices today make millions of calculations monitoring the environment and changing the way they operate based on the input.
Finally, the wireless revolution is upon us. Not only can hearing aids talk to external devices via Bluetooth technology but they can talk to each other using tech- nology such as Near Field Mag- netic Induction. Talking to each other the aids share information to keep wearers hearing in difficult environments.
What will hearing aids do next? How will they look?