A Brief History of Hearing Loss

A Brief History of Hearing Loss

Kevin Garnett, B.S. Hearing Health, Hearing Loss

Kevin Garnett, B.S.

Today’s modern technology makes it easy to treat hearing loss. Tiny hearing aids sit behind the ear, or even rest inside the ear or ear canal. But because of all this technology we sometimes forget that hearing loss has been around as long as people have. Here are some of the milestones that led to where we are today in a brief history of hearing loss. 

Seeing Signs of Conductive Hearing Loss in Ancient Remains

When did hearing loss start? While we can’t see signs of sensorineural hearing loss in ancient human remains, researchers can find signs of conductive hearing loss. Scientists look at ancient bones and examine the structures in the ear. Conductive hearing loss is caused by an ear or head injury, an abnormal growth of bone in the ear, or a serious illness or infection. Some ancient human remains found in Iraqi Kurdistan show signs of conductive hearing loss. Two of these 10,000-year-old skeletons have bony growths in the ear canal that would have caused hearing loss. 

But hearing loss goes much further back, probably as far back as there have been people. Some evidence of conductive hearing loss has even been found in 35,000 – 45,000-year-old Neanderthal skeletons.

First Written Record of Hearing Loss

To find the first written records of hearing loss, we have to look to Egypt. The Ebers Papyrus, dating from around 1500 BCE, gives a detailed remedy for hearing loss. To cure hearing loss, the author prescribes preparing a mixture of olive oil, goat urine, red lead, ant eggs and bat wings. This mixture should then be injected into the ear! Ancient remedies like this one are in a number of ancient cultures.

Hearing Loss in Greece

Next, hearing loss became linked to mental and cognitive function. Greek philosophers who lived in the 300s BCE had a negative view of anyone with hearing loss. Their writings refer to people born deaf, who used hand signals to communicate. The philosophers said the ability to reason or to think clearly was linked to the ability to hear and speak. They thought that anyone with hearing loss wasn’t as intelligent as people with normally hearing loss. 

Developing Sign Language

The first record of recognized sign language doesn’t actually originate in the deaf community. Instead, we have to look to Burgundy in the early 1000s CE. Monks who took vows of silence still needed to communicate from time to time. The monks developed a complex series of signs so they could easily communicate. This sign language, called Cluniac sign language, soon circulated to monasteries all over Europe.

The First Ear Trumpet

The earliest hearing aid was actually a hearing trumpet that looked like a horn. You could put the smaller end up to your ear and have someone speak into the larger end. This amplified the sound and made it a bit easier to hear. The first ear trumpet was made by Paolo Aproino in Greece. 

First Deaf School

The first school for the deaf was founded in the 1500s in Spain by Benedictine Pedro Ponce de Leon. Taking inspiration from the monks, Ponce de Leon developed sign language and the manual alphabet, and taught them to his students. He’s thought to be the first teacher for the deaf, and he also taught the students how to speak audibly.

First Hearing Aid

The first electric hearing aid was invented by Miller Reese Hutchison in 1898. This hearing aid used electrical currents to modify sounds. The first hearing aids didn’t work very well, but they could amplify soft sounds.

Commercial hearing aids hit the market in the 1920s, and these cumbersome devices weren’t portable. Hearing aids got smaller in the 1940s, needed less battery power, and produced clearer sound. 

Today’s Modern Technology

Hearing technology gets better every year! Now you have easy access to affordable hearing aids that will help you hear all the sounds around you. Modern hearing aids can treat conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss without using any bat wings or insect eggs. They’re also extremely small and powerful. If you’ve been having a hard time hearing, visit us today and find out how you can treat your hearing loss and enjoy clear hearing.