Music lovers and musicians of every genre 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 might not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those playing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to deal with noise-related 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 known as tinnitus.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels louder than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can affect musicians who play all kinds of music, but individuals who play the loudest music usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has used several different methods to manage the issue.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to play acoustically. At a show 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 considerable hearing loss due to excessive noise volumes. The drummer revealed 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 looked for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him 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.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also countless other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-induced hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to resurrect her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she reveals 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.