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.”
While physical pain might not accompany the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. The ability of the nerve cells to send messages to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can start to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is generally irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but musicians who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, because of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems come from continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed 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 decided to play acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss as a result of increased noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Looking for a way to curtail the continued deterioration 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 let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he started to produce and sell the design and ended up selling the patent to a major tech company for 34 million dollars.
Townshend and Van Halen are just two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to encounter noise-induced hearing problems.
But effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career with a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige suffered substantial hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige revealed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day to combat her hearing loss and insists 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.