Music lovers and musicians of every genre can undoubtedly 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 have a detrimental effect on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to deal with noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. One study revealed that volumes above 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but musicians who play the loudest tunes typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of many rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of constant and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has used numerous different approaches to manage the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with considerable hearing loss caused by 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 ongoing degeneration 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 let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also countless other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss.
But successfully combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she might not have Clapton’s worldwide fame 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 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 considerable hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to fight her hearing loss and asserts that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.