International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. Marley said the following regarding the power of music: “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 take a toll on those playing it. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
As a matter of fact, one German study discovered that working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than somebody working in another profession. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
These results are not surprising for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is usually permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but musicians who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been many popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at a minimum, delayed, due to noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has used several different strategies to manage the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and shield himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a concert 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.
Considerable hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer reported 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. This let him hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. 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 battle with hearing loss effectively. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to resurrect her career with a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered considerable hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids daily, she reveals that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.