International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “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 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 nearly four times more likely to deal with 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 known as tinnitus.
These results are no surprise for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Noise-related 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 there have been countless popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock group, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from constant and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different methods to deal with the problem.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to perform acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Substantial hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he started 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 just two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to experience noise-induced hearing problems.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss effectively. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for over 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. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids daily, 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.