Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the individuals enjoying it might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise levels well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can start to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is generally irreversible.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And there have been many noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who struggles 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 problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. The noise proved to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced significant hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Searching for a way to curtail the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. This allowed him to 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 began to produce 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 issues.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss successfully. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she discloses that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.