Music lovers and musicians of every genre can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In describing the power of music, the Jamaican-born Marley said: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
Music has been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a typical issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians as reported by 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 receive or produce exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can start to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and recurring exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to perform acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Substantial hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Looking for a way to reduce the continued degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may not have Clapton’s international fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, she discloses that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.