International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of every genre. In talking about 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 received 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 play a role in hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are almost 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 pronounced in those musicians.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send messages from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can start to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is normally irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but individuals who play the loudest tunes generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative effect on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the well-known British rock band, The Who, is one musician who suffers from partial deafness and tinnitus. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of constant and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has utilized several different strategies to deal with the issue.
Townshend shielded 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 much at a 2012 show 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, 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 in-ear monitor. 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. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he began to produce 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 Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss successfully. Her career may not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career by using a set of hearing aids.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years. 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 every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s good news to theater fans in the U.K.