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.”
Music has been known to take a toll on the musicians playing it even though the people 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-related hearing loss than non-musicians according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also called tinnitus.
Those results are not surprising for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send messages to the brain from the ears, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to noise above 110 dB. This damage is usually irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect musicians who play all types of music, but those who play the loudest music usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been countless noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers derailed, or at least, delayed, as a result of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who deals with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock group The Who. Constant and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing issues. Over the years, Townshend has managed these issues in several different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to play acoustically. At a concert in 2012, the volume proved to be too much for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss due to increased noise levels. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Van Halen spoke with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he looked for ways to deal with his worsening hearing loss. 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 major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Townshend and Van Halen are only two names on a long “who’s who” list of musicians and singers, including Eric Clapton and Sting, to experience noise-induced hearing issues.
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 revive her career.
From stages in London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Five decades of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered substantial hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears her hearing aids daily to fight her hearing loss and insists that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And that’s music to the ears of theater fans in the U.K.