Music lovers and musicians of all genres can undoubtedly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. In talking about 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 come with the music received by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Hearing loss is a typical problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians as reported by one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
These results are no surprise for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that volumes louder than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but musicians who play the loudest tunes usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been many popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, because of noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to perform acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss as a result of increased noise levels. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. 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 only 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 successfully fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may 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.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Paige suffered extensive hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.