International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has undoubtedly 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 have a detrimental effect on the musicians playing it even though the people enjoying it might not feel any pain. Many musicians discover that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that volumes higher than 110dB can start to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is generally irreversible.
Any type of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they’re inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of many rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from continuous and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has managed these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. The noise turned out 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 dealt with considerable hearing loss as a result of increased noise levels. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Searching for a way to curtail the ongoing deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. 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 just two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to encounter noise-induced hearing difficulties.
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 revive her career.
From stages throughout London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Paige experienced extensive hearing loss from fifty years of performing. Paige disclosed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.