Music lovers and musicians of all genres can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In talking about the power of music, the Jamaican-born Marley said: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain might not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study found that volumes above 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but those who play the loudest music usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to play acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Considerable hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. The sound-man eventually was so successful with this prototype that he started to manufacture and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also many other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. And while she may not have Clapton’s international name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and asserts that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.