International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. In describing 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 may not accompany the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to 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.
These results are no surprise for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study found that levels louder than 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this type 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 typically 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 result from constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has managed these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to play acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too much 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 significant hearing loss as a result of increased noise volumes. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to address his worsening hearing loss. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. 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 only 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 successfully. And while she might 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.
From stages in London’s West End, British 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 significant hearing loss. 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.