A Brief History of Hearing Loss

A Brief History of Hearing Loss

Did you know that hearing loss is the third most common health issue people live with today? Nearly 1 in 6 people have some degree of hearing loss. Impacting over 48 million people, hearing loss is a pervasive health challenge that many people experience. Fortueneyl, we live in a time of significant hearing technologies and innovations in hearing health. This makes it possible to easily access treatment and hearing solutions that effectively treat hearing loss. It wasn’t always this way despite hearing loss existing and affecting people for centuries. Understanding a brief history of hearing loss reveals just how far hearing health infrastructure, resources, and treatment has come. 

Early Evidence of Hearing Loss 

You may be surprised to learn that hearing loss has actually existed for a long time – centuries in fact. The earliest recordings that reference hearing loss can be traced back to over 10,000 years ago. While examining ancient skeletal remains, researchers identified exostoses which are small growths on the bones in the ear canal. This type of growth contributes to conductive hearing loss which is a type of hearing loss that is often temporary. Conductive hearing loss occurs in the middle portion of the ear and results from physical obstructions that prevent sound waves from being absorbed. Soundwaves can also be prevented from traveling down the ear canal and reaching the inner ear. 

In addition to this evidence, further pieces of evidence of the existence of hearing loss includes the following: 

  • Ancient Egypt: The Ebers Papyrus is often listed as the earliest recording of hearing loss. It dates back to 1550 BC in Ancient Egypt and is a document that lists different treatments for ailments and common health issues during this time period. The Ebers Papyrus features a remedy to treat “ears that hear badly”. This treatment describes inserting different substances in the ear to relieve pain as well as alleviate hearing challenges. Substances include olive oil, ant eggs, and even goat urine which were instructed to be injected into the impacted ear. Experts suggest that this treatment could have been used to dislodge earwax that was too hardened to move which creates challenges with hearing. 
  • Greece: there are writings from ancient Greece that provide insight into attitudes and perceptions of people with hearing challenges and/or who were deaf. These writings come from Plato and Aristotle who write that the ability to reason is linked to one’s ability to speak. Therefore they concluded that people who were deaf were intrinsically unintelligent. Additionally, Plato’s writings reference the use of a type of sign language: “If we had no voice or tongue, and wished to make things clear to one another, should we not try, as dumb [mute] people actually do, to make signs with our hands and head…” This further reveals ableist attitudes towards people who are deaf or hard of hearing. 
  • France: there are additional early recordings that reference sign language that can be traced to 10th century France. A group of monks in Burgundy used their hands to signal and communicate while taking their vows of silence. This was observed and spread throughout monasteries in Europe. This is cited as early inspiration for the development of sign language as well as the first school for the deaf, established in the mid 16th century. 

These early references to hearing loss highlight the existence of hearing loss over centuries. This evidence also points to at home treatment options and a language that was used for people with hearing loss to communicate. This evolution continues with the introduction and development of hearing instruments.  

The Evolution of Hearing Aids

Hearing instruments used to amplify sound date back to the 17th century. An early type of hearing device was an ear trumpet. Made from materials like animal horns and sheet iron, this trumpet created a funnel to facilitate and encourage sound to flow into the ears. The invention of the telephone in 1876 provided the technology that was used to make the first amplified hearing aids in 1889. This was followed by using vacuum tube technology to develop portable hearing aids by 1920. Advancements in technology during WWII continued to contribute to the production of hearing aids. By the 1990s, digital hearing aids were established, paving the way for the innovations we continue to experience today. 

Hearing loss has a long and interesting history that has evolved into the hearing healthcare we can access today.