Music lovers and musicians of all genres can undoubtedly 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 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 constantly 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 according to one German study. Those same musicians are also 57 percent more likely to have constant ringing in their ears, also known as tinnitus.
For musicians who are regularly exposed to noise volumes higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings aren’t surprising. One study found that volumes above 110dB can start to impact nerve cells, corrupting the ability to deliver electrical signals to the brain from the ears. This damage is usually irreversible.
Noise-induced hearing loss can impact musicians who play all types of music, but those who play the loudest tunes usually run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been countless noteworthy rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at a minimum, delayed, because of noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who suffers from tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is most likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has handled these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend opted to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist decided to leave the stage.
Substantial hearing loss as a result of loud music exposure has also been a problem for Alex Van Halen of the rock band Van Halen. The drummer documented that he lost 30 percent of his hearing in his right ear and 60 percent in his left.
Looking 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 volume by connecting wirelessly to the soundboard. The sound-man ultimately was so successful with this prototype that he started to produce 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 issues.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who discovered another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss effectively. And while she may 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.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages in London’s West End. Fifty Years of performing damaged Paige’s hearing to the point she suffered significant hearing loss. For years, Paige has admitted to depending on hearing aids.
Paige said that she wears 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.