Close to 6 million U.S. teenagers have some type of hearing loss, which represents an increase of approximately a third over the past 2 decades. While authorities say that this hearing loss is in part due to sustained exposure to high volumes of music from portable players and phones, taking part in marching band is yet another possible cause. As almost every city high school and college has a marching band, participation is a quite common activity among teenagers.

Dangerous decibel levels for teens.Volume, or sound level, is measured in decibels (dB). Children and adults can suffer hearing loss from exposure to sounds over 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.

Prevention and protection strategies. Musicians earplugs are effective at reducing the sound levels that reach the inner ear. These professional earplugs are designed to fit perfectly in the teen’s ears. Musicians earplugs can be expensive, which may be a problem for parents. Another effective strategy for protecting young people’s hearing is to reduce the length of time they are exposed to potentially harmful sound levels by breaking up the rehearsals into shorter sessions. 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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