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 may not come with the music enjoyed by adoring audiences, it’s been known to have a negative impact on the musicians performing it. Hearing loss is a prevalent issue for musicians who are constantly exposed to loud tones and don’t use hearing protection.
Musicians, in fact, are up to four times more likely to deal with noise-induced 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.
These results are no surprise for musicians who regularly produce or receive exposure to noise levels above 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send messages from the ears to the brain, as reported by one study, can begin to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is normally irreversible.
Any style of music can be loud enough to damage hearing but some styles are riskier because they are inherently loud. And there have been countless popular rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, due to noise-induced hearing loss.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Constant and recurring exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. As his symptoms have advanced over the years, Townshend has used several different methods to deal with the issue.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass shield on the band’s 1989 tour and opted to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too much at a 2012 concert and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with considerable hearing loss as a result of excessive noise levels. The drummer revealed that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and in his left he lost 60 percent.
Van Halen consulted with his soundman about a custom-fitted in-ear monitor as he searched for ways to manage 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 subsequently became so successful that the band’s sound-man started producing 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 problems.
But successfully battling hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. And while she may not have Clapton’s worldwide name recognition or Sting’s history of record sales, she does have a set of hearing aids that have helped to revive her career.
From stages throughout London’s West End, English musical theater performer, Elaine Paige, has been thrilling audiences for more than 50 years. Paige suffered significant hearing loss from five decades of performing. For years, Paige has admitted to relying on hearing aids.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids daily to combat her hearing loss and asserts that her condition has no bearing on her ability to work. And for theater fans in the U.K., that’s music to the ears.
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