Today if you are dealing with hearing loss it is most likely that you are using hearing aids. Hearing aids are the most common treatment for most hearing loss, working by picking up sound through a microphone in your ear canal and converting the sound to electrical signals. These signals are then sent to an amplifier that makes it easier for you to hear while using your existing hearing. While hearing loss can never be corrected only accommodated for, hearing aids are the most solid choice for treating hearing loss. However, this has not always been the recognized standard. Before hearing aids, people tried all sorts of methods to help cure hearing loss. Of course the scientific journey to help with hearing loss has been a truly creative journey. Let us explore the history of curing hearing loss. There have been some truly unconventional attempts!
Beethoven’s Search to cure hearing loss
Beethoven might be one of the most prominent figures in music at the turn of the 19th century but that is not all he is known for. He struggled with hearing issues in his mid 20’s that began to decline into near deafness by his mid 40’s. The cause has never been understood but he did not sit idly and ignore his hearing loss. He sought out the medical experts of his time to find a cure for his hearing issues.
Some of the methods that Beethoven’s doctors suggested were the use of almond oil ear plugs to stimulate hearing, tepid baths in the Danube river, poison bark of the daphne tree to his skin and even the use of mild electronic currents, called galvanism, to stimulate his hearing. One doctor even suggested isolation and silence to give his ears a break from sound and a chance to heal. Unfortunately none of these methods helped his hearing. Even so Beethoven wrote legendary pieces of music with limited hearing and ultimately near deafness. As his hearing failed he would put a pencil from his ear to the piano to pick up vibrations, which caused him to write in lower octaves, that his ears could pick up easier. As his hearing declined higher notes returned to his compositions as he began to write from his recollection of sound.
Early Hearing Contraptions
As the 19th century continued doctors and scientists tried all sorts of methods to stimulate hearing. One such method were tools used to stimulate the ear’s nerves. These contraptions were an early attempt at hearing aids, which vibrated the inner ear in hopes of allowing the ear to pick up sound again. This, however, was a false hope along the way on the journey towards helping deal with hearing loss.
Blistering was another very popular attempted cure for deafness. A caustic plaster made of fat or wax, was applied behind the ear to cause blistering in hopes of leaching toxins out of the ear to help cure hearing loss. This only caused more discomfort with no positive results.
Another attempt to cure hearing loss was the fashioning of artificial eardrums at the close of the 1800’s. It was the hope that these artificial eardrums would resonate helping the aid of picking up more sound. While the intention was good, these hearing devices only made hearing worse, often uncomfortable and made out of metal.
As the 19th century continued many looked toward the common use of electricity as a way to fix just about anything. Some doctors explored the use of electrotherapy aided by zinc and iodine to cause discharge. It was also the hope that electricity could cure deafness by stimulating the auditory nerve allowing sound to be transmitted again to the eardrum. Today we understand that the auditory nerve sends signals to the brain.
UV Light Rays
At the beginning of the 20th century scientists hypothesized that powerful ultraviolet light could cure hearing by eliminating bacterial growth and enhancing blood flow to the inner ear. It was also believed that this light could clear blocked passageways as many scientists hoped these rays could cure virtually everything. Today we know this is not the case.
Hearing Cures of Today
While hearing aids are the best solution for these times perhaps there are more ways that we can augment or cure lost hearing. The journey towards a cure is not always linear and there are lots of false attempts along the way. Who knows what the future holds!