Music lovers and musicians of every genre can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 might not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a common issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is usually permanent.
Noise-related hearing loss can affect musicians who play all kinds of music, but musicians who play the loudest tunes typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been many notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, because of noise-induced hearing loss.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing problems result from continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided 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 decided to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss as a result of increased noise levels. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. 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 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 just two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to encounter noise-induced hearing problems.
But effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. Paige revealed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids every day to combat her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.