International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has certainly 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. Many musicians learn that without protection, the continuous exposure to loud tones can contribute to hearing loss.
Musicians, in fact, are nearly four times more likely to deal with noise-induced hearing loss than non-musicians based on one German study. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more pronounced in those musicians.
For musicians who are frequently exposed to noise levels higher than 85 decibels (dB), these findings are not surprising. The ability of the nerve cells to deliver signals to the brain from the ears, as reported by one study, can start to weaken with exposure to sound above 110 dB. This damage is normally irreversible.
Noise-related hearing loss can impact musicians who play all styles of music, but individuals who play the loudest tunes generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And there have been countless notable rock ‘n’ roll musicians to have their careers shortened, or at least, delayed, due to noise-related hearing loss.
One musician who struggles with tinnitus and partial deafness is Pete Townshend of the British rock band The Who. Frequent and repeated exposure to loud music is more than likely the cause of Townshend’s hearing problems. Over the years, Townshend has addressed these issues in a few different ways as his symptoms have advanced.
Townshend protected himself from loud sound behind a glass partition on the band’s 1989 tour and chose to perform acoustically. The noise turned out to be too loud at a 2012 show and the guitarist chose to leave the stage.
Another hard rocker, Alex Van Halen of the band Van Halen, also dealt with substantial hearing loss as a result of increased noise volumes. As reported by Van Halen himself, the drummer lost 60 percent hearing in his left ear and, in his right he lost 30 percent.
Looking for a way to reduce the ongoing degeneration of his ability to hear, Van Halen consulted with the band’s soundman on a custom-fitted earpiece. That earpiece would connect wirelessly to the band’s soundboard, which let him hear the music at a lower (and clearer) volume. That prototype ultimately became so successful that the band’s sound-man began manufacturing them commercially and eventually sold that company to a major sound and video technology outfit for $34 million.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also countless other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few notable mentions on the long list of famous musicians to suffer from noise-related hearing loss.
But effectively combating hearing loss is something one singer in the United Kingdom has accomplished. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have record sales like Sting, she has been able to revive her career by using a pair of hearing aids.
From stages throughout London’s West End, British 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 experienced considerable hearing loss. Paige shared that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses 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 good news to theater fans in the U.K.