Some 6 million teenagers nationwide suffer some form of loss of hearing, and this number has risen dramatically over the last 20 years. Besides the use of high-volume MP3 players and cell phones, authorities say that teenagers’ participation in marching band is another possible cause of damage to hearing. Marching band is a favorite activity for teens, as bands can be found in almost all large high schools and in virtually every university.

Young people and extreme sounds. Volume, or sound level, is measured in decibels (dB). Noises in excess of 85 dB can lead to hearing loss in both adults and children. Some of the instruments in marching band can easily surpass the 85dB mark when the teens are practicing or performing. For example, Duke University students were exposed to decibel levels of 99 over a half hour during drumline practice. What can be even more damaging than playing those instruments on the field is playing indoors for rehearsals. Unfortunately, many youths don’t reduce the volume of their instruments when playing inside.

Strategies for hearing protection and hearing loss prevention. An effective solution for reducing sound levels is the use of musicians earplugs. These professional earplugs are designed to fit perfectly in the teen’s ears. However, parents often find them to be expensive. 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. Parents, teens, and band leaders should work together to increase awareness and to implement strategies for protecting the hearing of marching band members.