Roughly six million teenagers nationwide suffer some type of loss of hearing, and this number has risen considerably over the last 20 years. Besides the use of high-volume portable music players and cell phones, experts say that teenagers’ involvement in marching band is another possible cause of damage to hearing. Marching band is a popular activity for teens, as bands are available in almost all large high schools and in virtually every university.

Dangerous decibel levels for teenagers.Volume, or noise level, is measured in decibels (dB). Sounds greater than 85 dB can cause hearing loss in both adults and children. 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. Sometimes teens don’t want to reduce the volume of their instruments just because they are inside.

Prevention and protection strategies. An effective solution for reducing sound levels is the use of musicians earplugs. 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. Band leaders and participants also need to be aware of how important it is to lower the volume of their instruments when practicing indoors. 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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