International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. 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 people enjoying it may not feel any pain. Many musicians learn that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not unexpected. One study revealed that volumes higher than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect musicians who play all styles of music, but those who play the loudest tunes usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock band, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend protected 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 proved to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss due to excessive noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Looking for a way to reduce the continued deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. 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 just 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 successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career with a set of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Paige suffered substantial hearing loss from fifty years of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and asserts that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.