Although more recent adaptations of this device were constructed from wood or metal, earlier examples of the ear trumpet can be found in snail shells and animal horns. It’s widely believed that the Ancient Greeks were the first to popularise its use, around 550 B.C, using hand-decorated seashells. It wasn’t until the turn of the 18th Century, when ear trumpets became more commonly used as a hearing aid - with Ludwig van Beethoven being one of the most recognised users.
In the late 1800s, and early 1900s, several devices were around that used long rubber tubes. These were called Conversation tubes - flexible rubber tubes which channel the sound to the listener. Featured in this picture is a tabletop design for use at dinner. You can imagine this was handy at home, but quite bulky to carry around.
The ‘Acousticon’ was the device imported by Hans Demant, the founder of Denmark, for his wife Camilla. The same device was used by Queen Alexandra during her coronation in 1902. The device was so successful, that Hans Demant started selling the devices – and so began ‘Oticon’, which was to become one of the world leaders in hearing care technology.
The Oticon T3 from 1953 was the first transistorised instrument in Europe. As from the days of hearing trumpets, it was not socially acceptable to advertise one’s hearing problem with a hearing device. In Victorian times, the trumpets were covered in leather & lace to make them more attractive. The Oticon T3 was designed to be disguised by jewellery, such as a string of pearls.
With the invention of transistors, hearing aids could become smaller and smaller. From the 1960s, ‘Over the Ear’ or ‘Behind the Ear’ models became more common. In ‘BTE’ models, all the electrical components are housed in a casing that sits behind the wearer’s ear. Sound is delivered via a ‘tone hook’, which connects to a plastic tube. The plastic tube is inserted into a custom made ‘earmould’, which sits snugly in the wearer’s ear.
The technological advances of the 1970s and 1980s included integrated circuitry and lithium batteries that allowed for smaller hearing aids with better noise reduction ability. As the name suggests, these hearing aids were worn inside the ear.
In 1991 Oticon introduced the first hearing instrument that was fully automatic. It was called ‘Multifocus’.
Up until the mid 1990s, hearing aids were adjusted by the audiologist with a miniature screw driver. Tiny ‘trimmers’, or little dials were located on the back of BTE’s, or on the faceplates of an ITE device. These ’trimmers’ controlled the overall level of sound, and the balance of bass and treble. They were kind of like dials on a hi-fi system, only in miniature.
The latest range of hearing aids now come with wireless processing connectivity. This has two key advantages. When worn as a pair they can communicate with each other and make decisions on what you should hear depending on the listening environment. Additionally, when using a streaming device, they can link wirelessly to TV's, landline and mobile phones and other bluetooth enabled devices.
Hearing aid manufacturers have recently developed smaller components for digital hearing aids which means they can make the whole hearing aid smaller. An impression is carefully taken of the inside of the ear canal and then the outside shell is custom made to fit the individual's ear. Amazingly, they can fit even the most sophisticated processors deep inside the ear. In most ears, this really is an invisible hearing aid device when worn.