Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Top 10 Weirdest Hearing Aids Ever

The course of hearing aid history is a fascinating one, with the true technological advances in the field beginning around the Industrial Age. How Stuff Works has a good article on the history of hearing aids - which is filled with some strange and fascinating oddities along the way. This is a list of the top 10 weirdest hearing aids I found while taking a look through their past.

10. Acoustic fans
Acoustic fans were made of metal and were popular among fashionable women in the 1800s. Used to disguise a person's hearing loss, they were usually held behind the ear to help direct sound into the ears. Or, in the bizarre case of bone conduction fans, they would use the bones of the teeth and skull to direct sound:

You have to wonder who she thinks she was fooling.
9. Chairs
It's good to be the king.
Acoustic chairs were the hearing device of choice for those royalty in the 18th and 19th centuries who didn't want anyone to know about their loss - or didn't care but just wanted to look cool while they lounged. The chair King John VI had (see right) was especially cool - it forced his subjects to kneel before the chair and speak into the animal heads at its arms, which amplified the sound for the king. How intimidating would that be?

8. Massaging devices
Massaging devices purported to restore a person's hearing by "massaging" their ears. One of them was the Oticon Ear Treatment Device, which massaged the ear drum, trying to stimulate blood flow and the cochlea. Somehow, I doubt it was of much use to the people who bought it. By the way, does the name Oticon sound familiar? The president of the company that manufactured this quack device was instrumental in setting up Oticon A/S, which today is a top hearing aid manufacturer. (They made my aids!)

7. Eyeglasses
Eyeglass hearing aids are actually making a comeback! Well, a small one. While doing research for this post I came across Spectacle Hearing Systems, a UK company manufacturing hearing aids built into glasses. I can't speak for the quality of these hearing aids, but eyeglass aids have been around since the 1950s. Check out some of the styling specs here.

6. Wrist-ear
Now this is the kind of hearing device that James Bond ought to have worn if he were deaf. This was a device from the '50s that was worn on the wrist, like a watch. Only problem is, judging from the advertising photos, it didn't function as both a watch and a hearing aid. That probably made it embarrassing when somebody asked you for the time.

5. Water canteen
Now we're getting into ridiculous territory. Here we have a hearing aid disguised as a water canteen. I guess if you're camping, you don't want the local wildlife to know about your loss. When else could you wear this thing? According to the Washington University School of Medicine, it was primarily used on horseback. It also functioned solely as a hearing aid, not as a water canteen, so you'd have to carry a real canteen too if you wanted a drink.

4. Beard Receptacle
Just after the water canteen aid on the link above, you can see a device called a "Beard Receptacle." It was just for the men, of course. It was situated around the chin and hidden by the beard, with parts that stuck in your ears. It all sounds very precarious.

3. Soundbite
I've written about this new hearing device a few times on my blog, most recently here. The Soundbite is worn on your teeth, and conducts sound through your jawbone. It has not yet completed FDA trials, so don't go rushing out to buy one quite yet.

2. iPhone
Instead of buying a new device just for your hearing, why not put an existing device you own to good use? If you happen to own an iPhone, you can try out the soundAMP app, available in the iTunes store. You can use either the built-in microphone or an external microphone. It may not compare to a hearing aid bought from an audiologist, but it might get you by in some situations. Perfect for the people above who've moved into the 21st century and are still embarrassed about their loss, and much easier to hide than a fan you have to bite.

1. Ear lobe
And now the #1 weirdest hearing aid ever. I chose this one because it's the only one on this list that actually involves body modification. That's right, body modification, and none of that easy surgery either. To get this aid, you have to stretch your earlobe - as though you wanted to wear a gauge in it. And actually, you do. A functional gauge.

I wrote about this hearing aid, too. It's a concept design from Design Affairs in Germany. Perfect for the stylish 21st century young adult who isn't interested in acoustic chairs or hiding a hearing aid in their beard.

Thanks to the Washington University School of Medicine's "Deafness in Disguise" page and the Hugh Hetherington On-line Hearing Museum.


  1. I was going to mention the sound bite one if you didn't and THAT'S a modern invention. I just don't see that hearing aid making it

  2. Actually, eyeglass hearing aids were popular up until the late 1980's, with the Veterans Administration the largest customer.
    (Source: Rich Denny at Fidelity Hearing Instruments, 1986)

  3. Interesting and nicely compiled list of weirdest hearing aids. It’s really fascinating to see how people use these weird hearing aids.

  4. Fortunately for those needing a hearing aid, technology has greatly improved through the years. Most long production run companies, can now manufacture hearing aids that come in a variety of sizes, power and circuitry. In addition, the device is not visible when worn. Your post is really interesting. I simply cannot imagine someone using a wrist ear. The funny part is, it doesn't function as a hearing aid nor a watch! Thanks for the fascinating post!

  5. Great! I wondered if you had any more infomation on bluetooth HE’s. oticon hearing aids Needham MA

  6. This is a very nice list. Very informative! Some are really weird yet I find them all so cool!

  7. They might be that weird but I think there is really no difference since it can still help people in their hearing.

  8. All are so interesting and very new to me. Glad that you have complied it.

  9. Very informative article. I am glad that I've read some of your posts.

  10. The ear lobe "gauge" hearing aid looks like...

    Nahhh, not gonna go there!

  11. I find them so cool. Never really thought about the innovation of hearing aids.

  12. My partner and I really enjoyed reading this blog post, I was just itching to know do you trade featured posts? I am always trying to find someone to make trades with and merely thought I would ask.

    best hearing aid High Point Nc

  13. Wow, this is the great information, I think; one of the biggest problems for hearing aid users is the disturbing effect of background noise. Digital hearing aids go a long way towards solving this problem. They are able to reduce noise and enhance speech by adjusting the sound smoothly and automatically.

  14. Thank you so much! This gave me a great laugh! I'll stick to the good BTE's!

  15. Meghan:
    This is super material and quite accurate. As one that has taught university courses in hearing aids including the historical component, you have even collected a couple that I not yet had discovered. Nice job in uncovering the unique new stuff as well.

    Good luck with your site.

    Robert M. Traynor, Ed.D., MBA...Audiologist
    Editor, Hearing International

  16. Actually, the Oticon pneumatic device in #8 is similar to the Meniett device for treatment of Meniere's Syndrome.


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