A Brief History of Hearing Loss

A Brief History Of Hearing Loss

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss by Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HISLeave a Comment

Jack Felix, ACA, BC, HIS

Have you ever wondered how people thought about hearing loss in the past, or how they treated hearing loss in ancient cultures? Here’s a brief history including what we know about hearing loss.

Ancient Signs of Hearing Loss

Some of the earliest signs of hearing loss have been found in very ancient remains. Scientists can’t see signs of sensorineural hearing loss, since that hearing loss only affects the cells in the ears and brain. What they can see is indications of conductive hearing loss. This hearing loss can be caused by damage to the bones in the ears, for example from an illness or injury. It can also be caused by an abnormal growth of bone in the ear. Ancient remains found in Iraqi Kurdistan show signs of conductive hearing loss. Two of these humans who lived 10,000 years ago had bony growths in the ear canals that most likely caused hearing loss.

Hearing loss reaches even further back in time. Scientists looking at 35,000-year-old Neanderthal skeletons have also seen some signs of conductive hearing loss.

Early Treatments for Hearing Loss

One of the first written records of hearing loss is from approximately 1500 BCE. The Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian scroll, gives some instructions for curing hearing loss. First, you’ll need to prepare a mix of olive oil, red lead, goat urine, ant eggs and bat wings. Next, pour this mixture into your ears! According to the scroll, this could cure hearing loss.

Outcasts from Society

In ancient Greece, people with hearing loss weren’t respected. In fact, ancient Greek philosophers said a lot of negative things about people born deaf. In the 300s BCE, being deaf was thought to be a sign of poor intelligence. The philosophers didn’t think people with hearing loss could reason or think clearly if they couldn’t hear.

Monks Develop Sign Language

The earliest records of sign language aren’t from the hard of hearing community. In fact, monks in Burgundy were the first to develop sign language. In the early part of the 1000s CE, many monastic orders took vows of silence. However, these monks still needed to communicate, so they developed hand signs. This Cluniac sign language, as it’s called, spread to other monasteries all across Europe.

School for the Deaf 

The first school for children with significant hearing loss was founded in Spain. Benedictine Pedro Ponce de Leon created the school in the 1500s to educate the children of the aristocracy who were born with hearing loss. This school further developed sign language, and also taught the students a manual alphabet. Ponce de Leon was probably the first teacher of deaf students. He even developed a technique for teaching students to speak audibly. 

Early Hearing Instruments

The first “hearing aid” was a hearing trumpet. This hearing aid looked more like a musical instrument than a hearing device. To use the trumpet, you put the small end of the horn up to your ear. People could speak into the bigger end to amplify their voices. This ear trumpet was supposed to help people follow conversations. One of the most famous people to use an ear trumpet was the classical composer Beethoven.

Earliest Hearing Aid

The first electric hearing aid was developed after the discovery of electricity. One of the earliest hearing aids was made by Miller Reese Hutchison in 1898. The hearing aid used a carbon transmitter to modify sounds. The hearing aid could take a weak signal, use an electric current to make it stronger, and send it to the ear. This amplification sounds more effectively than ear trumpets. 

Early hearing aids were large boxes you had to carry with you. Lighter hearing aids weighing 7 pounds were developed in the 1920s, and after WWII hearing aids got much smaller and more effective. 

Modern Hearing Aids

We’ve come a long way in this brief history of hearing loss! And thankfully treating hearing loss is easier now than ever before. Modern hearing technology can fit into tiny hearing aids that are extremely powerful. These devices have sophisticated programs that automatically scan the sounds around you, and adjust settings to help you hear clearly. Now you can get affordable, top-of-the-line hearing aids with excellent new technology and features to help you hear at your best. To learn more, contact us today!

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