Music lovers and musicians of every genre can no doubt 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.”
Music has been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a typical problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced 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.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is normally irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect musicians who play all types of music, but individuals who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been countless noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, because of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to play acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out 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 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.
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. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing them commercially and later sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-induced hearing loss.
But successfully fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career may 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.
From stages throughout London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 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 every day to fight her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.