A Brief History of Hearing Loss

A Brief History of Hearing Loss

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, nearly 48 million Americans (20%) suffer from hearing loss to some degree. Hearing aids could help approximately 28.8 million people in the United States, according to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). 

Despite these rising trends, hearing loss is not a new issue. Even though our world might seem louder than it has ever been, hearing loss is in fact almost as old as time. Despite the fact that hearing loss has been a problem for humans since the dawn of time, there is little documentation of deafness and hearing loss in historical records. The only evidence that exists is subsumed in the larger topic of ‘disabilities throughout history’.

The history of hearing loss dates back to ancient times in the cradle of civilization. Let’s go through some of the major periods and how people reckoned with the issue of having compromised hearing.

Hearing in the Ancient Eastern World

Some of our earliest evidence about hearing loss comes from the skeletal remains of ancient people who lived at least 10,000 years ago in what we now call Iraq and Kurdistan. 

Some of these humans had bony growths in their ear canals which, in severe forms, can impact people’s abilities to hear. References to hearing loss were also made in ancient Egypt, where a remedy for “Ear that hears badly” calls for injecting olive oil, ant eggs, goat urine, bat wings, and red lead into one’s ear. 

Hearing in the Ancient Western World

People who were deaf and hard of hearing were long considered unintelligent or too simple-minded to be considered adults. In the Western world, these beliefs date back to Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle in the 10th century. 

Their suggestions that reason and Rationality were only available to those who could speak shaped much of The Enlightenment’s thinking about physical ability and notions of adulthood and humanity. These beliefs, in turn, negatively impacted the livelihoods of many people who simply could not hear according to “normal” standards. 

There were, of course, exceptions to the rule, with some examples of people who advocated for the deaf and hard of hearing community. The development of sign languages is traced to communities that were selectively mute, such as monks in ancient Burgundy, a region in France, who took a strict vow of silence but who developed complicated signs to communicate with one another. 

Hearing in Modern History

In modern historical times, different deaf cultures emerged and developed complex methods for communicating. These communities were often fostered in deaf schools that came to be established and which took deaf and hard of hearing people as those who possessed complex communication and reasoning skills.

Throughout the 1700s, there were advancements in hearing technologies. We start to see the first uses of ear trumpets that amplified certain sounds. While there were long periods—hundreds of years—where hearing aid technologies came and went, depending on cultural and societal norms of the time, we have experienced a rush of development around hearing assistance technologies. 

In 1940, electronic hearing aids were first developed to assist people with some levels of hearing. Since then, we have expanded into ever more advanced and ever-smaller hearing aid devices. The deaf and hard of hearing community has simultaneously developed distinct cultural formations around hearing in and of itself. Some people of these communities, for example, do not believe in invasive hearing aid assistance, such as the use of cochlear implants. For these people, deafness is an essential personal, cultural, and political identity maintained. 

Hearing: A Millenia-Old Condition

The history of ideas around hearing demonstrates the rich and complex ways that people have formed individual and collective identities worldwide. Our technologies used to communicate with those with different hearing abilities, which includes the development of sign language and hearing aid devices, have changed over time.  

Now you know a little about the history of hearing loss, take advantage of the new technology today for a better future without hearing loss! To schedule a hearing test and learn more about the latest hearing aids, contact us today.