Music lovers and musicians of all genres 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 received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent issue for musicians who are continually 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 according to one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
These results are not surprising for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can begin to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is generally irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can affect musicians who play all styles of music, but musicians who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been countless notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems come from continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and shield himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Considerable hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer reported that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
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 issues.
But successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to revive her career with a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.