Hearing aids have come a long way over the past century. The first electronic hearing aids were introduced in the late 1800s and were bulky, heavy devices that used primitive carbon microphone technology. By the 1920s, the development of the vacuum tube allowed for some improvement in sound amplification, but hearing aids were still large, cumbersome devices that distorted sound.
The First Behind the Ear Model
It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that transistor technology paved the way for smaller, more effective hearing aids. The first behind-the-ear (BTE) model was introduced in 1952 and used newly developed transistors to amplify sound. In the 1960s, advancements in microchip technology led to further size reductions and the introduction of in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids. These were designed to fit directly in the ear canal so they couldn’t be seen.
Digital Sound Processing
The 1970s and 80s saw continued refinements in microelectronics and the emergence of digital sound processing in hearing aids. This allowed for more precise fitting, feedback reduction, and noise reduction capabilities. Programmable hearing aids also became available, allowing different settings for different listening environments. By the 1990s, completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids could be made small enough to fit entirely in the ear canal.
Connectivity and AI
Recent decades have seen phenomenal advances in hearing aid technology. Universal connectivity via Bluetooth allows hearing aids to double as wireless headsets and stream audio directly from smartphones and other media devices. Artificial intelligence and machine learning have enabled more natural sound quality and adaptable noise reduction. Apps allow users to control and customize settings right from their phones. Rechargeable battery technology does away with the need to replace batteries.
Today’s hearing aids leverage these high-tech features to be smaller, more comfortable, and nearly invisible. Designs include receiver-in-canal (RIC) styles with a tiny receiver in the ear canal and the battery and microphone behind the ear. These can connect wirelessly to ultra-discrete earbuds or completely invisible cochlear implant-style aids. Open-fit hearing aids with venting allow more natural hearing and speech. Biometric sensors track body and brain signals to optimize sound in real-time.
An audiologist can help fit the right hearing aids for you. Everyone has different needs, and one type of hearing aid that is perfect for one person might not suit you. Look here to see your options.
The Future of Hearing Aid Technology
The future looks even brighter for hearing aid technology. Further miniaturization and personalization will make aids more adaptable and accessible to different types of hearing loss. Generative adversarial networks (GANs) and deep learning may allow hearing aids to distinguish speech from background noise more intelligently. And 3D printing customization could enable aids that perfectly match unique ear canal shapes. With the incredible pace of advancement over the past century, hearing aids are now highly advanced wearable computing devices – a far cry from their rudimentary predecessors. The next 100 years is sure to bring even more revolutionizing innovations.