Music lovers and musicians of every genre can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
While physical pain might not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Hearing loss is a common issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is generally permanent.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized several different methods to manage the problem.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to play acoustically. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss due to increased noise volumes. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Looking for a way to reduce the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. 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.
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 difficulties.
But effectively fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career with a pair of hearing aids.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.