Occupational Health Hazard? Rock n’ Roller Develops Hearing Loss

Musician with hearing loss
March 19, 2019

Not the first rock n’ roller to suffer from hearing problems, and he won’t be the last: Sugar Ray’s lead singer Mark McGrath recently announced that the decades spent on the stage have finally taken its toll…on his hearing.

Musicians are often hit with hearing loss and disorders — one might be able to say it’s a known occupational hazard. Musicians are at almost four times the risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

Why is that? Noises that register above 85 decibels damage the cells in ears that pick up sounds, called ‘fragile hair cells’; once these cells are damaged, there’s no going back. Speakers at an average rock show regularly register at or above 120 decibels. Beyond just hearing loss, tinnitus can further complicate things for musicians: it is known to result from prolonged exposure to loud noises.

Interviewed by DailyMailTV after a show in Vegas, McGrath struggled to understand a question being asked and confessed that he now considers himself “deaf” and went on to say he can’t hear anymore. The songster responsible for penning hit lyrics such as ‘I just want to fly’ does not ‘just want to try’ protecting his ears: he shared that despite the damage he has suffered, he is still resistant to using products that are commonly used by musicians attempting to protect their hearing.

Examples of protective products musicians use on stage include modified ear plugs, in-ear monitors ( a type of hearing aid), and baffles (shields used by drummers). These devices are growing in popularity, especially as more rockers continue to age (and as health-conscious millennials learn about the dangers of high decibel exposure). These products are key because they protect ears from the damage of those high-decibel sounds.

So why won’t McGrath try earplugs?

Apparently, you can’t teach an old musician new tricks. McGrath said he needs to feel fully immersed in each concert: the sights, the smells and, unfortunately for his hearing, the sounds.

Despite his refusal to try in-ear devices, McGrath did note that the loss of his hearing could threaten livelihood. He stated that when he meets new people and they introduce themselves, he can’t hear them. He even admitted to feeling nervous about the hearing loss because his livelihood is tied to his ability to hear.

McGrath is not alone in his plight. Huey Lewis, 68. was recently diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, which is an inner-ear disorder that impacts hearing. Though the rock and roll lifestyle may be starting to catch up to a certain set of stars, McGrath expressed hope for the future hearing of the younger generation of musicians — noting that the new in-ear devices have done wonders to protect hearing.

With tour dates scheduled through November of this year, it doesn’t appear that McGrath is planning to slow down his rock n’ roll lifestyle anytime too soon…it might just be time for him to schedule his appointment at the local audiology clinic.