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.”
While physical pain might not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on those playing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to 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 frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send signals to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect musicians who play all kinds of music, but those who play the loudest music usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of many rock musicians.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different approaches to manage the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing 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 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 in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) level. The sound-man ultimately 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 only 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 effectively fighting 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 set of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced significant hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily 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.