International reggae music icon, Bob Marley, has a quote that has no doubt 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.”
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 play a role in hearing loss.
In fact, one German study revealed that working musicians are about four times more likely to grapple with noise-induced hearing loss than someone working in another industry. Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is also 57 percent more prominent in those musicians.
Those results are no surprise for musicians who frequently produce or receive exposure to noise levels exceeding 85 decibels (dB). The ability of the nerve cells to send messages from the ears to the brain, according to one study, can begin to degrade with exposure to sound above 110 dB. Researchers consider this kind of damage to be permanent.
Noise-induced hearing loss can affect musicians who play all kinds of music, but those who play the loudest music generally run the greatest risk for hearing loss. And noise-induced hearing loss has had a negative impact on the careers of lots of rock musicians.
Pete Townshend of the legendary British rock band, 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. Over the years, Townshend has handled these problems in a few different ways as his symptoms have progressed.
On the band’s 1989 tour, Townshend chose to play acoustically and protect himself from direct exposure to loud noises by standing behind a glass partition. At a show in 2012, the volume turned out to be too loud for the guitarist, who decided to leave the stage to escape the noise.
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 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 let him 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.
Van Halen, Townshend, and also countless other musicians, including Sting and Eric Clapton, are but a few noteworthy mentions on the long list of famous musicians to experience noise-related hearing loss.
But there’s one singer in the United Kingdom who found another way to fight her own battle with hearing loss effectively. Her career might not be as well known as Clapton and she may not have the record sales that Sting does, she has been able to revive her career by using a set of hearing aids.
English musical theater dynamo, Elaine Paige, has been dazzling audiences for over 50 years from stages throughout London’s West End. Paige suffered significant hearing loss from five decades of performing. Paige shared that she has been depending on hearing aids for years.
Paige said that she uses her hearing aids every day 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.
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