When you think of hearing aids, what do you picture? Maybe an image of Beethoven comes to mind, with an ear trumpet placed against a piano. Ear trumpets were the first form of hearing aid to be commercially produced. They operated by concentrating sound waves from a large area, and focusing those waves into the ear canal. They were remarkably adept at this function, given that they contained no moving parts. However, they were a cumbersome solution the problem of being unable to hear. After all, who wants to take a foot long funnel with them everywhere they go? I can't speak for anyone else, but this author would rather not.
With advances in electronics, new forms of hearing aids were developed. One of the first used a cord connecting a box the size of a pack of cards to a mold that fit within the ear. These hearing aids were dubbed the body assisted hearing aid. The sound was actually picked up by the box. The box itself could be worn on a belt, and the cord could be routed up to the ear underneath clothing. Still, the visual impact of this device was fairly large in comparison to what was to follow.
The most common form of hearing aid for several decades was a behind the ear aid. In this setup, a small device was placed behind an ear to pick up sound. The device operated similarly to the larger box in the body assisted hearing aid. Instead of a cord running all the way up from your waist, these aids ran a small tube over the top of the ear and into the ear canal, where it was connected to a small speaker which would relay the sounds directly into the inner ear. It worked much more effectively than the body assisted aids because it had a smaller tube length, which led to less distortion.
Advances in technology have allowed us to replace the tube, which was originally about the diameter of a straw, with a tiny wire that is all but invisible to onlookers. The analogue transmission methods originally used have also been replaced by digital transmission, which cuts down on the "fake" sound that was caused by hearing everything through a tube.
Still more compact than the behind the ear hearing aids are the in-ear variety. These aids fit entirely within the outer ear canal, and are often invisible to anyone who isn't looking directly into your ear. They omit the entire transmission process as the same bit of machinery is both receiver and transmitter. They are among the least visible hearing aids around, and they can even be made to only fit into part of the ear canal, so that those with only partial frequency hearing loss can still hear other frequencies normally.
The technologies available now are a far cry from lugging around a trumpet to stick into your head. This is something that anyone who could use a hearing aid is thankful for. After all, hearing loss is a delicate issue for many. The less impact a hearing aid presents socially, the happier the wearer is.