Roughly six million teens in the United States suffer some type of loss of hearing, and this number has risen dramatically over the past 20 years. Besides the use of high-volume MP3 players and cell phones, authorities say that teens’ involvement in marching band is another possible reason for damage to hearing. Marching band is a popular activity for teens, as bands are available in almost all large high schools and in almost every university.

Teens and loud sounds. Volume, or noise level, is measured in decibels (dB). Adults and children can suffer hearing loss from exposure to sounds in excess of 85 dB. Some of the instruments in marching band can easily surpass the 85dB mark when the teens are practicing or performing. An experiment at Duke University showed that a drumline rehearsal exposed students to decibel levels of 99 over a 30-minute period. What can be even more damaging than playing those instruments on the field is playing indoors for rehearsals. Sometimes teens don’t want to reduce the volume of their instruments just because they are inside.

Strategies for hearing protection and hearing loss prevention. Musicians earplugs are effective at reducing the sound levels that reach the inner ear. Musicians earplugs are custom-designed to fit an individual’s ear perfectly. However, parents often find them to be expensive. Shorter rehearsal sessions are another good approach to protecting teens hearing, because it breaks up the time for which they are exposed to potentially damaging decibel levels. Increased awareness among teens and band leaders of the importance of reducing instrument sound levels when playing indoors is also key. To best protect the hearing of marching band members, a joint effort between students, band leaders, and parents is recommended.

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