International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. 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 individuals enjoying it may not feel any pain. Many musicians discover that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can start to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can affect musicians who play all types of music, but musicians who play the loudest tunes typically 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, due to noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different methods to manage the issue.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much 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 due to increased noise levels. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Van Halen spoke 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) level. The sound-man eventually was so successful with this prototype that he began 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 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 effectively battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she may not have Clapton’s international name recognition 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 dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige experienced considerable hearing loss from fifty years 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 asserts 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.