Music lovers and musicians of all genres can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following in regards to the power of music: “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 constant 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 as reported by 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 levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. One study revealed that volumes higher than 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is generally irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but musicians who play the loudest music typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been lots of popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing problems are the result of constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these issues 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 opted to play acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with considerable hearing loss due to increased noise volumes. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Searching for a way to curtail the ongoing degeneration 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 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 battle with hearing loss successfully. And while she may not have Clapton’s international name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to resurrect her career.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages in 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.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day to fight her hearing loss and asserts 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.