Music lovers and musicians of all genres can certainly 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.”
While physical pain may not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on those performing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent problem for musicians who are continually exposed to loud tones and fail to use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are almost four times more likely to suffer from noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to experience consistent ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). One study revealed that levels above 110dB can begin to affect nerve cells, degrading the ability to deliver electrical signals from the ears to the brain. Researchers consider this type of damage to be permanent.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage the ears but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And noise-related hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of many rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the renowned British rock group, The Who, is one musician who deals with partial deafness and tinnitus. Frequent and recurring exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. As his symptoms have developed over the years, Townshend has utilized numerous different methods to manage the problem.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and shield himself from direct exposure to loud noises by playing behind a glass partition. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too loud for the guitarist, who chose to leave the stage to get away from the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also experienced considerable hearing loss caused by increased noise volumes. According to Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, 30 percent in his right.
Looking 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. This allowed him to 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.
Van Halen, Townshend, along with many other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few renowned mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience 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. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide fame or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a pair of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
From stages in London’s West End, British musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for over 50 years. Paige experienced extensive hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige revealed that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Because Paige uses her hearing aids every day, she discloses 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.