Close to six million U.S. teenagers have some type of hearing loss, which signifies an increase of about 33 % over the past 2 decades. While experts say that this hearing loss is in part due to regular exposure to high volumes of music from portable players and phones, participation in marching band is yet another contributing cause. As almost every city high school and university has a marching band, participation is a quite common activity among teens.

Unsafe decibel levels for teenagers.Noise levels are measured in decibels, also written as dB. Sounds greater than 85 dB can cause hearing loss in both children and adults. Marching band includes a variety of instruments, some of which easily cross over that threshold during rehearsals and performances. An experiment at Duke University showed that a drumline rehearsal exposed students to decibel levels of 99 over a 30-minute period. However, playing those instruments indoors for rehearsals can be even more harmful to teens’ hearing. Unfortunately, many youths don’t reduce the volume of their instruments when playing inside.

Prevention and protection strategies. 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. 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.

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