Music lovers and musicians of every genre can no doubt relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. 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 individuals enjoying it may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a typical problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Actually, one German study found that working musicians are about four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than someone working in another profession. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Any kind of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are more hazardous because they’re inherently loud. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, The Who, is one musician who struggles with 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 managed these problems in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and decided to play acoustically. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 concert and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Significant hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to manage his worsening hearing loss. That in-ear monitor would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which allowed him to hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. That prototype eventually became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with countless other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss effectively. And while she may not have Clapton’s international fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she experienced substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.