International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. 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. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
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 pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. One study revealed that volumes louder 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 irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but individuals who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized several different methods to deal with the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Significant hearing loss caused by loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Looking for a way to curtail the ongoing degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he began 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 experience noise-induced hearing issues.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss successfully. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, she reveals that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.