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.”
While physical pain might not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to take a toll on the musicians performing it. Many musicians find out that without protection, the constant exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to suffer from noise-related hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who frequently receive or produce exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study found that volumes higher than 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, corrupting the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. This damage is generally irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect musicians who play all kinds of music, but those who play the loudest tunes usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of many rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Substantial hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent of his hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to deal with 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) level. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also countless other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Sting, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-related hearing loss.
But effectively fighting hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has achieved. And while she may 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 resurrect her career.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige suffered significant hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige shared that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige wears her hearing aids every day, she discloses that she can still work without her condition being a problem. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.