When a musician loses his or her hearing

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The recent announcement by Huey Lewis that he had a hearing loss and would be canceling the upcoming tour of Huey Lewis and the News brings to mind other musicians whose careers have been affected by hearing loss. Often, we hear this news about rock and roll musicians, but musicians of all stripes can lose their hearing, though the causes may vary.

In Lewis’ case, the cause of hearing loss is reported to be Mnire’s disease, an inner ear disorder that affects both balance and hearing. The hearing loss is typically in one ear, and can fluctuate, sometimes to the point of near deafness in that ear. Mnire’s can also be accompanied by tinnitus, a perceived ringing, roaring, or buzzing sound in the ear. Vertigo (dizziness) as well as a feeling of fullness in the ear are also common symptoms. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one of the National Institutes of Health, offers additional information on Mnire’s disease, including potential causes and treatment.

For most musicians with hearing loss or tinnitus, however, the most common cause is exposure to loud music over a long period of time. Sting, Neil Young, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, and Coldplay’s Chris Martin, as well as others have come forward saying that years of playing loud music had taken a toll on their hearing. Martin has since become an advocate for wearing hearing protection during concerts, and he and other musicians have taken part in awareness campaigns for hearing protection.

The effect that hearing loss has on a musician’s work can be significant. In an essay published in the September 2012 issue of the journal Trends in Amplification, classical composer Richard Einhorn describes how sudden hearing loss in one ear has affected his life and, thankfully, how new technologies have helped him continue in the business.

Even though the causes of hearing loss may vary, it is always a good idea for musicians (and anyone else) to protect the hearing he or she currently has. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has released guidelines to help musicians protect their hearing. In addition, the advocacy organization Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers promotes the use of earplugs by musicians as well as concertgoers.