International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt resonated with musicians and music lovers of all genres. 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.”
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 common problem for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Actually, one German study discovered that working musicians are about four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another industry. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience consistent ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes well above 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver messages to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this type of damage to be irreversible.
Noise-related 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-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who struggles with partial deafness and tinnitus. The common belief is that Townshend’s hearing issues come from constant and repetitive exposure to loud music. As his symptoms have progressed over the years, Townshend has utilized several different strategies to manage the issue.
Townshend shielded himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to perform acoustically. At a show in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Considerable hearing loss due to loud music exposure has also been an issue 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.
Searching for a way to curtail the ongoing deterioration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted in-ear monitor. 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 started 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 just two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to encounter noise-induced hearing problems.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own bout with hearing loss successfully. And while she might 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.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for more than 50 years. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered significant hearing loss. Paige disclosed that she has been relying on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day 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.