Music lovers and musicians of all genres can certainly 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 may not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous 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 according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have consistent ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
These results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study found that volumes above 110dB can start 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 impact musicians who play all types of music, but those who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of countless rock musicians.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. The noise proved to be too much at a 2012 concert and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Considerable hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Looking for a way to reduce the continued degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. 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 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 battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she may not have Clapton’s international fame 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 stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Paige suffered substantial hearing loss from fifty years of performing. 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 asserts that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.