Music lovers and musicians of all genres can certainly relate to the words of reggae icon Bob Marley. Marley said the following regarding 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 individuals enjoying it may not feel any pain. Hearing loss is a typical issue for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
These results are no surprise for musicians who regularly receive or produce exposure to noise levels in excess of 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels higher than 110dB can begin to impact nerve cells, degrading the ability to send electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all kinds of music, but individuals who play the loudest music typically run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. The common opinion is that Townshend’s hearing issues are the result of continuous and repeated exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different strategies to manage the issue.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend decided to play acoustically and protect himself from direct contact with loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too much 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 substantial hearing loss due to excessive noise volumes. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Searching for a way to reduce the continued degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. This allowed him to hear the music more clearly and at a lower level by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. That prototype subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man started manufacturing them commercially and later sold that company to a national sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few notable 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 found another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss effectively. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she might not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater powerhouse, Elaine Paige, has been stunning audiences for more than 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered substantial hearing loss. Paige shared that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she reveals that she can still work without her condition getting in the way. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.