When Did Hearing Aids Begin To Get Smaller?

One of the biggest advantages of private hearing aids from an audiologist is cramming sophisticated systems into an exceptionally tiny form.

This size is a hugely important aspect of ensuring that hearing aids are worn anytime they are needed for as long as they are needed. The more you wear your hearing aids, the more comfortable they will be and the greater the benefits.

A large part of this comfort comes from hearing aids being small enough to comfortably fit in or around the ear without looking conspicuous or being so heavy as to cause discomfort, and it took a very long time for hearing aids to get small enough to reach that level.

From The Pocket To The Ear

The earliest hearing aids were designed to be portable and integrated into headbands and spectacles, but the inherent limitations of the ear trumpet meant that it had to be a certain size and weight in order to be functional.

When electronic hearing aids became possible in the wake of Miller Reese Hutchison’s Akouphone in 1898, the vast majority of models were portable in a sense, but in practice, this meant that they were electronic boxes that were bulky but not so bulky that they could not be carried around.

Many hearing aids were integrated into suitcases and purses for this very reason, and by the 1920s, these hearing aids were about the size of a cigar box and could be carried around in a relatively large pocket.

By 1949, models such as the Zenith Miniature 75 had managed to reduce the size of the hearing aid to roughly the size of a large matchbox, but the inherent limitation of using vacuum tubes to power the system means that there is an inherent limit to how small they can get without a radical change.

This radical change came with the development of the transistor, a critical component of modern electronics by the 1970s, but one that appeared in hearing aids as early as 1952.

Even in the early days of transistor technology, they were better in every single respect than vacuum tubes; they were smaller, less fragile, more reliable and extended battery life, allowing for smaller hearing aids to be made and mounted to other objects like glasses.

The goal was laudable, but in a rush to move to transitions, there were major flaws that transistor companies failed to recognise due to a lack of testing.

Raytheon, one of the first companies to mass-produce transistors and amongst the first to make a transistor hearing aid, found out that the devices they were selling would die after just a few weeks, meaning that someone who needed a hearing aid would have to go through the fitting process every month at huge expense.

It turned out that transistors could get damp thanks to body heat and body humidity and needed a protective coating to stop moisture from destroying the circuit. 

Manufacturers quickly found workarounds and by 1953, the Maico Model 0 “Transit-Ear” was on the market and whilst it was still a body-worn hearing aid, it was significantly smaller than others that were available, and paved the way for hearing aids to be worn in and on the ear.

Who Invented The First Digital Hearing Aid?

One truly unique element of hearing aids often seen most prominently in the advanced bespoke private hearing aids found by a dedicated audiologist is that hearing aids are a very advanced evolution of a centuries-old concept.

Hearing aids have existed in at least a very primitive form since the 17th century as described by mathematician Jean Leurechon and as an electronic amplifier since 1895. However, the biggest evolution in hearing aid technology took decades to truly come to fruition.

Digital Hearing Processors

One of the first major points of interest when computers started to become increasingly sophisticated and practical in the 1960s was audio processing.

Part of this was for telecommunications, and indeed the first online call would happen in the mid-1970s, but another critical research path was the study of speech processing and how this could be used to make better, more tailored hearing aids.

This was an exceptionally long process, in no small part because computers took a very long time to become small enough and powerful enough to process audio in real-time.

Whilst Moore’s Law was in effect and computers were getting more powerful, smaller and cheaper at a phenomenal rate, computers available in the 1960s were room-sized and not fast enough to take real speech, process it into data and return the result to an earpiece without considerable delays.

What it could do initially, however, was allow for some of the foundational studies into speech analysis that would allow this work to be undertaken in the future.

The first major result of this was the Block of Compiled Diagrams (BLODI), which allowed for any speech that could be registered as a block diagram to be synthesised.

At the time, computers were only able to process or playback the digital signals, meaning that it was impractical as an actual hearing aid given that the process of digitising speech could take days, but it showed that it could be done.

The breakthrough moment was in 1967 when a hearing aid was simulated entirely using BLODI by Henry Levitt, which was the first step towards more practical hearing aids.

This came to fruition in the 1970s through the development of “hybrid hearing aids”, which used the conventional amplification and filtering of typical analogue aids but also had the capacity for digital programming and tuning via a computer.

This allowed for hearing aids that were easier to develop and fine-tune for the needs of different people and allowed for adaptive noise filters, reducing some of the early audio ephemera that was a problem with very early analogue hearing aids.

The final step of this process came in the 1980s, when a team at Washington University, including Mr Engebretson, Mr Morely and Mr Popelka developed the first truly digital hearing aid, having managed to develop a battery-powered, tiny computer system that was powerful enough to process digital audio signals in real-time.

This allowed for hearing aids to not require a separate box but could have all of the components supplied behind the ear, and later in the ear itself, whilst also featuring the ability to program the hearing aid digitally, self-calibration and self-adjustment.

What Can You Do If Your Hearing Aid Stops Working Correctly?

The complex balance private hearing aids have always had to manage is to make a very complex piece of technology so small and easy to use that people may barely notice it in their ear.

Typically, the ideal hearing aid should only be noticeable if there is a problem, and ideally, there should seldom be an issue if it is taken care of, regularly charged and a wearer follows the advice given to them by their audiologist.

However, there are times when a hearing aid either develops a problem or does not appear to be working as effectively as it used to. Regular visits to an audiologist will help troubleshoot these problems, but whilst waiting for an appointment, here are some simple steps to take to see if they solve your issue.

If Your Hearing Aid Is Whistling

Whilst far less of an issue with modern hearing aid designs, a hearing aid audibly whistling can be caused by a wide range of issues, some of which can be fixed in a second whilst others might need a follow-up appointment.

There are generally three main reasons why a hearing aid whistles and the most serious of these is that your hearing aid does not have a secure fit.

Hearing aids will naturally have a snug fight, so make sure it is secured as tightly as possible whilst still being comfortable.

However, if it does not naturally fit right, then you may need a replacement fitted shell for your hearing aid. This is often the case if the ear itself has changed size.

Other than this, whistling can be caused by a blockage of the wax filter by earwax. This simply needs to be cleaned off using the cleaning tool you received with your hearing aids. Failing that, you can replace the existing filter with a new one.

Finally, it could just be that the hearing aid is covered up. If you have a big scarf, a hat or large headphones, it can cover the area around your hearing aid, causing it to inappropriately pick up noises.

No Sound At All

Conversely, instead of getting an undesirable sound, you instead hear nothing at all. Besides a full-on malfunction that requires a fix from an audiologist, there are often much simpler issues at hand that might be affecting its ability to aid your hearing.

It could be the case that dust, ear wax or a combination of the two might be blocking the microphone or the receiver tube, so clean it according to the instructions.

Alternatively, it could be a matter of checking the battery. Most modern hearing aids have rechargeable batteries so make sure to put them on charge whenever you are not using them.

On the subject of power, it might be as simple as the power switch not being on, which often happens when putting it into your ear. Simply switch it back on and check if that helps.

Finally, it could be an issue with the volume, which also can be affected accidentally when putting it in your ear.

When Was The First Practical Hearing Aid Ever Invented?

There are few feats of miniaturisation more astonishing than modern private hearing aids, which are so small as to be effectively invisible yet can provide an astonishing level of clarity to speech by carefully amplifying speech which assists the brain’s ability to process it.

Often, a lot of the benefits of hearing aids and even the devices themselves can be forgotten whilst they are in use, only noticed when they need to be removed or examined by an audiologist. 

This is to its tremendous credit, but means that to truly appreciate how they help enrich lives we need to take a step back.

Hearing aids as they exist today are highly advanced, carefully designed and adjusted by aural specialists, but the concept is over two centuries old, and in practice has at least three main inventors.

The Lost First Ear Trumpet

Much like how the contact lens and modern corrective glasses began with the looking stone, hearing aids as we recognise them today began with the ear trumpet.

The history of its invention is unclear, and whilst its earliest description could be found in the book Recreations mathématiques by Jean Leurechon, the early bespoke nature of ear trumpets means that there is a real chance that they were invented far sooner than the 17th century.

By the turn of the 18th century, they had started to become more popular, and by the start of the 19th century, they started to be commercially produced by the London-based merchant Frederick C. Rein and his company F.C. Rein And Son.

They work on the same principle a funnel or a trumpet does; the cone concentrates sound energy into the ear and makes sounds louder.

They were initially quite large and heavy, but because they were essentially a metal cone, they could be portable and versatile enough to be fitted into items of clothing, fashion accessories and seats.

Akouphone

The invention of the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell opened a wave of possibilities by inventing the microphone alongside it, as well as amplification and frequency adjustment.

These were taken full advantage of in the invention of the Akouphone by Miller Reese Hutchison in 1898. It used a carbon microphone and was designed to help a childhood friend who had lost her hearing.

It worked, but its original tabletop form was far from ideal. However, within a few years, the Akouphone became the more portable battery-powered Acousticon and quickly became a massive success.

This was, in no small part, thanks to excellent timing and publicity. After the end of the Spanish-American War of 1898, Mr Hutchison travelled to Europe, where members of several ruling families suffered from genetic hearing loss.

One of these, Queen Alexandra of Denmark, was overjoyed by the results to the point that Mr Hutchison became a guest at the coronation ceremony of her husband, the late Queen Victoria’s son King Edward VII.

Whilst still flawed and limited in who it could help, it was seen by medical experts at the time of the 1904 World’s Fair as the best possible option and set the wheels in motion for the advanced hearing aids we have today.

Differences In Prescription & Over The Counter Hearing Aids

If you feel like you are struggling with your hearing, whether it feels like the world has gotten quieter, people are mumbling or it is harder to make out words, private hearing aids can bring clarity back into your world.

For the most part, this means booking an appointment with a GP or a specialist audiologist and getting hearing aids fitted that are attuned and tailored to your needs, both in terms of hearing assistance and also in terms of fitting your lifestyle.

However, there are also some types of hearing aids (sometimes advertised as hearing amplifiers) that are available over the counter in some pharmacies and even some supermarkets and catalogue stores.

Whilst they often look very similar to hearing aids, have some of the same basic designs and work in an ostensibly similar way, they are very different to prescription hearing aids of the kind you would get from a private audiologist and vary wildly in quality and price.

Here are some of the big differences.

The Intended User

Over-the-counter hearing aids are similar to OTC reading glasses, in the sense that they are designed for relatively mild-to-moderate hearing loss, whilst a prescription hearing aid is tailored to the user and can manage any degree of treatable hearing loss as prescribed by an audiologist.

When You Can Use Them

An OTC hearing aid can be used as soon as it is bought, and can sometimes be useful for people who want to try out the feeling of a hearing aid before they see an audiologist, although this is naturally only the case for people with mild hearing loss.

Prescription hearing aids take a little longer to arrive, as they need to be designed with your individual needs in mind, and often require a fit-in session to ensure they are a perfect match for your ears and are tuned in a way that makes them comfortable to put in.

Do You Need Your Ears Testing?

For OTC hearing aids, they can be bought and used regardless of your current diagnosis, and typically the test comes with buying a pair and trying them out to see if they provide any clarity. That is as far as testing or configuration ultimately goes.

Meanwhile, before having a prescription hearing aid, you will have a test with a professional audiologist, an examination of your ear to check if any physical conditions may be affecting hearing such as impacted ear wax, and a comprehensive hearing test that helps reveal the level and potential causes of hearing loss.

Comfort Levels

By design, OTC hearing aids are one-size-fits-all, and whilst they come in a range of styles, they are far from tailored to the needs of each ear. The result may be hearing aids that do not feel comfortable in the ear, might be more noticeable than you may like, or ones that feel too loose to stay in.

In the fitting session, an audiologist will ensure that your hearing aids are comfortable, and follow-up sessions are an opportunity to tweak them to ensure a perfect fit and adjust the settings to suit your hearing.

Can Hearing Aids Help With Speech Clarity And Understanding?

Because the principle of hearing aids is far older than the technology currently used in them, there are a few misconceptions about how they work and what private hearing aids can do for people who are dealing with mild hearing loss.

Whilst they can provide amplified audio, they are far more than audio amplifiers such as headphones and headsets, and whilst some modern earbuds can, in a pinch, work as hearing aids, they lack many features that hard-of-hearing people rely on.

As well as this, they can help people hear more clearly and understand speech more succinctly in ways that go beyond simply turning the volume up on the world around them.

A great example of this in action is exploring how hearing aids can help not only with volume but also with understanding.

The Complexities Of Hearing Loss

The process of hearing is somewhat more complex than many people think because it does not just involve the ear but also the audio-processing part of the brain working in tandem.

Part of the reason why hearing aids are believed to help with dementia is that they stimulate the part of the brain in charge of audio processing, but it works in a way that is more subtle and sophisticated than simply making sounds louder.

A common complaint people have but do not realise can be tied to their hearing is that they feel like they can hear someone fine, as in the sounds are at an appropriate volume, but not all of the sounds are comprehensible, and so people sound like they are muttering, mumbling or that the problem is on the part of the speaker.

The reason for this comes down to the differences in pitch between vowel and consonant sounds.

Vowel sounds tend to be easy for the ear to pick up because they are relatively low in pitch, however consonant sounds, particularly sibilant (“S” sounds) plosive (“P” sounds) and fricative (“F”, “V” and “Th”) sounds.

As consonant sounds are the most distinctive and important to hear to distinguish different words, certain words can blur together, leading to difficulties in understanding and potential social faux pas events occurring.

It can also lead to difficulties hearing other people during phone calls, misunderstanding children’s voices or not being able to enjoy the same music you used to.

An audiology test will often confirm if the cause of this difficulty in parsing speech is caused by a hearing impairment, and if it is the case, then in the vast majority of cases a hearing aid is a very effective solution.

Not only does it help with improving comprehension, but it also reduces listening fatigue, where other parts of the brain compensate for hearing loss, often leading to a reduced ability to focus on other tasks and a general lack of mental energy.

There are other causes of hearing difficulty, including certain types of auditory processing disorders or other issues with the auditory nerve, but an audiology test or hearing aid will ensure that your hearing is getting the best possible help to make speech comprehension easier.

Why You Should Never Try To Remove Your Own Earwax

Earwax can often be thought of as a pest, something that causes a mess and can block up your ears, making them uncomfortable. But the reality is very different.

Most of the time, earwax plays a very important role in protecting your ear canal. It can pick up germs, bugs, foreign bodies like dust and even living creepy-crawlies that might otherwise find your ear an attractive hole to crawl into.

Such thoughts might make you wince, but it is important to appreciate that earwax is there for a good reason. The substance it is made of, cerumen, is not actually wax at all, so there’s no point trying to mould it into candles.

The time when earwax becomes an issue is when there is an excess of it and some becomes hard, impairing your hearing and causing discomfort. Often, the temptation is to try to remove it yourself, perhaps using cotton wool buds. But if you need earwax removal you really should entrust this to a specialist with the right equipment.

Speaking to US-based health and wellbeing publication The Healthy recently, two experts, ear nose and throat doctor Greg Roscoe, and Brian Taylor, the director of an audiology practice, offered some clear advice to anyone thinking of trying to clear out earwax by themselves: not so much D.I.Y as D.O.N.T.

Dr Roscoe noted that using cotton wool buds is a counterproductive exercise, as it will commonly push the earwax deeper and compact it more, which makes the blockage larger and harder to shift.

The ear itself, Dr Taylor explained, is basically self-cleaning, with tiny hairs helping to expel small fragments of dry earwax, so it does not build up too much.

This does mean it can collect on the outside of the ear, which is, he noted, the one instance when you can clean it. “Using soap and water with a washcloth to gently clean the outer ear is usually sufficient to keep your ears clear of excess wax,” he said.

The key point in this case is that the wax is outside the ear canal, so it can be wiped away, which is a very different scenario to when it is in the confined space inside the ear and you might be tempted to use something to poke at it.

Dr Roscoe suggested the best way to manage earwax generally is to treat your eyes like you would your eyes. He commented: “Just as you regularly have your eyes checked, your ears also need routine examinations.”

Doing this might help prevent a major problem from arising. But, of course, the time when many people will call for help will only be when a problem arises. When that is the case, however, there is one way to make things better – and one to make it worse.

There are many symptoms of earwax build-up, including hearing loss, vertigo, earaches and tinnitus. Whatever the signs are telling you that something has to be done, don’t hesitate to get the right sort of help. You will be very glad that you did.

Do You Need Bluetooth-Compatible Private Hearing Aids?

Despite the technology being innately small for comfortable, discreet use, private hearing aids are typically filled with a lot of interesting technological features.

One of the most interesting of these is Bluetooth connectivity, using the same technology many wireless headsets use to provide a greater level of compatibility with audio devices.

Whilst the technology is not exactly new, with the underlying technology first being developed in 1989 and the first Bluetooth-compatible devices first being sold in 2001, as the technology has become more accessible and more ubiquitous, its existence in hearing aids has become increasingly beneficial.

Every major hearing aid manufacturer will produce units with Bluetooth connectivity, with functionality that ranges from direct audio streaming to being able to finely tune your earpiece’s sensitivity via a smartphone or tablet app.

Whilst a hearing aid without Bluetooth will work fine, the advanced connectivity and feature set can make it a beneficial option, particularly for people who find ways to get the most out of it.

Versatile And Highly Compatible

Bluetooth is a relatively mature technology that has been used in a vast array of electronics for over two decades. Because of this, there are precious few pieces of audio equipment that do not connect to the technology and by extension to your hearing aids.

Some connections are more rudimentary than others, treating the earpiece more like a pair of conventional earphones rather than a hearing aid, but they may provide a better hearing experience.

Mobile phones, laptops and newer televisions, in particular, are highly suited to using Bluetooth to provide an aural experience free of external noise and interference.

More advanced standards such as Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) and the telecoil-esque Auracast are set to make this even easier.

Customisable Listening Options

With more recent hearing aids and smartphones being designed with each other in mind, you can create a far more personalised audio experience.

You can adjust the volume of the particular device or devices you are connected to, can alter the level of external noise around you to either focus on the audio from the device or allow you to hear conversations around you.

You can also adjust your settings using an app on your smartwatch or smartphone, which can be easier and more convenient with smaller hearing aids than manual adjustment.

Longer Range

Bluetooth has a 30ft range in normal conditions, although this can vary if a wall is in the way or the device you have it connected to is not exactly strong. Regardless, this distance is more than enough to comfortably connect to a television on the other side of the room without interference.

Highly Reliable

The 20 years of constant development as an industry leader in wireless technology means that it has become exceptionally reliable and consistent. It works at a high level across a broad spectrum of technologies, and whilst it is still evolving, it is on a very firm foundation.

They also “pair” (connect together) within a matter of a few seconds with just a few clicks or taps.

Common Ear Infections That You Need To Know About

The human ear is usually well-protected against ear infections. While too much earwax can be a problem, the substance is a very effective barrier to keep out foreign objects and even living specimens that might otherwise cause all kinds of damage and disease.

However, this is not an impenetrable barrier and there are various ways in which an infection may happen. That is when you should contact us to get ear infection treatment.

It helps a lot if you have at least some knowledge of the different kinds of ear infection, which have varied causes and can affect different parts of the year. By recognising symptoms, you can seek treatment sooner and therefore get the issue dealt with faster, avoiding pain and the potential for severe damage.

Common symptoms suggesting you may have an ear infection include pain or itching in the ear, discharge from the ear, lethargy, nausea and a high temperature. They are particularly common in children, but adults can still suffer from them.

Middle ear infections are usually suffered by children and are caused by viruses like colds or flu, while for adults the two main kinds of infection are middle and outer ear infections.

A middle ear infection can be caught by adults or children and is caused by bacteria or a virus and if untreated can lead to severe conditions like Labyrinthitis. Outer ear infections are mainly suffered by adults over 45 and involve irritation of the ear canal, often caused by things like earplugs, eczema, or water ingress.

There are some things people can do themselves to treat infections, such as taking Paracetamol or Ibuprofen and wiping away any discharge, while it is important to avoid using cotton wool buds to try to remove anything from the ear. You should also be careful to avoid water or shampoo getting in there, as this can make things worse.

While the majority of infections clear up within three days, some do not – and that is when you should be seeking medical attention. A skilled practitioner can give you the treatment you need, which can range from antibiotics for various conditions to steroids or anti-fungal treatments for outer ear infections.

If you frequently use earplugs or other items that go inside the ear, or have a medical condition like eczema, you may also be given useful advice to help reduce the danger of a recurrent infection. After all, the last thing you want is to have to keep on going back for more treatment.

As well as some common viruses, Covid-19 has also been associated with ear infections. In 2022, Medical News Today highlighted the results of multiple studies that showed the virus was likely to cause infections.

However, while Covid-19 was a novel virus when humans first encountered it, it has essentially the same impact when it comes to causing ear infections as other viruses, causing inflammation and the build-up of fluid.

Paradoxically, at the height of the pandemic children were less likely to suffer ear infections, as lockdown meant they were less exposed to other viruses.

Should You Wear Hearing Aids All Of The Day?

When you get your private hearing aids fitted, tested and tweaked to allow you to hear the vivid soundscapes of everyday life, your first question will likely be the same as millions of others who have had their lives changed by their hearing aids.

The question of how long you should be wearing your hearing aids is often asked for a variety of reasons. Some people immediately take to hearing aids and want to know if they can wear them all the time, whilst some need time to get used to the new range of hearing and need to know how long they have to wear them.

Ultimately, the precise answer will vary from person to person, but you should aim to wear your hearing aids as much as possible when you are awake, but whether that regular wear starts immediately or comes later will depend on your individual comfort.

 

From Early Days To Constant Aid

We hear not only through our ears but through our brains, and because of this, you need to wear the aids as much as possible to ensure your brain keeps focused on processing sound information.

If you do not wear them for a while, it takes some time to adjust to them, so you should keep them in as much as possible, especially when you are at home, in social settings or out and about shopping to make your life a lot easier.

If you cannot wear them all the time at first, start by wearing them for a couple of hours every day and slowly build up your usage as you get more comfortable.

 

When Should You Not Wear Your Hearing Aids?

It is much easier to list the times when you should avoid wearing your hearing aids, either due to potential damage to the equipment, your ears or both.

Whilst you can get waterproof hearing aids, most are not designed to get wet, so you should take them off when bathing, showering or swimming, as well as if you are applying sprays such as perfumes or sunscreen.

If they do get wet, wipe them off immediately and wrap them up until they dry. You can get dry boxes specifically designed to dry off hearing aids if they are caught in the rain, as well.

Alongside obvious risks to the electronics, try to avoid wearing them (or having them switch on at a high setting) if you are expecting to hear a lot of loud noises, such as heavy machinery, loud vehicles or garden equipment.

The loud noises are somewhat unpleasant and would be amplified more than a voice would, making them quite painful and exhausting to hear.

Finally, whilst you should wear them all day if you can, you should not wear them when you are going to sleep.

There are a few reasons why, but the biggest of these is that you might risk losing your hearing aids in the night if they fall out of your ear.

Besides, it helps to give the ears the opportunity to have air circulate through them, to avoid the buildup of earwax.