Ear trumpets were early human's first attempt at coping with hearing problems. In pre-historic times, ear trumpets were simply hollowed-out horns of cows or rams. Later versions in wood and metal followed the same general contours as the natural horns. In later centuries, we continued to refine trumpets, experimenting with the acoustical properties of materials such as silver, shell, horn, artificial tortoise shell and more recently plastic.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries, it was common to fashion ear trumpets from metal covered with vulcanite (hard rubber), or from brass, and then paint them black. In either case, it was hoped that the black finish would make the hearing trumpet less conspicuous against dark clothing worn by the user.
Cerumen, commonly known as earwax, is genetically determined and has been used by anthropologists to track human migratory patterns.
Reiter’s Ear Kissing Syndrome (REKS) states that kissing on the aperture of the ear may create significant negative pressure at such a speed that it can damage the stapedial ligament, which connects the stapedial muscle to the stapes, and cause a tsunami of sorts in the inner ear fluids, damaging the delicate outer hair cells permanently. Affected people can suffer high frequency hearing loss, tinnitus and distortion of sound.
Dr Reiter’s recommendation is not to stop kissing, but be aware of REKS especially in newborns as they have very small ear canals.
Presented with a pair of ear defenders for his ninetieth birthday the Duke of Edinburgh joked: “Can you get Radio 3 on this?’’
One can only imagine, then, the scene when Prince Philip, now 93, was fitted with the pair of hearing aids that he wore for the first time in public on Tuesday.
Although particularly discreet, the devices, which are available through the NHS, could be seen in the form of two thin wires inserted into the Duke's ears at a reception in Buckingham Palace.
Royal observers pointed out that the Duke’s need for hearing assistance was unsurprising at his age, particularly because he still makes regular appearances at events where he engages in conversation with dignitaries, politicians and members of the public. Tuesday’s reception, to which he accompanied the Queen, was held to honour recipients of the Victoria Cross and George Cross and their families.
“He has done remarkably well to be doing what he does for so long and not need them,” said Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine.
“Over the years it has been apparent when he has been out with the Queen that he has not been fully au fait with things going on around him and she has had to tell him. I think his hearing has been impaired for some time so it is just a way of improving his quality of life.”
A Royal spokesman declined to comment, on the grounds that the Duke’s hearing aids are a medical matter. However, Gemma Twitchen, senior audiologist at Action on Hearing Loss, formerly the RNID and of which the Duke was patron until last year, said the hearing aids were likely to be one of two kinds of device - both of which are available through the NHS.
She said the device worn by the Duke could be one of two types of “behind the ear” devices: an “open fit” hearing aid, which has a small earpiece at the tip of the tubing inserted into the ear instead of a traditional mould, or a “receiver in the ear” device which has a small loudspeaker in the part inserted into the ear.
The wires on the Duke’s hearing aids appear particularly thin, making them harder to notice.
But Ms Twitchen added: “People might be surprised that you can get the smaller tubes on the NHS for free, but hearing aids have come on a long way in terms of technology and how they feel and fit in the ear.”