Close to 6 million U.S. teens have some form of hearing loss, which signifies an increase of approximately 33 % over the last 2 decades. In addition to the use of high-volume MP3 players and mobile phones, authorities say that teenagers’ participation in marching band is yet another possible cause of damage to hearing. Marching band is a favorite activity for teens, as bands are available in almost all large high schools and in virtually every university.

Unsafe decibel levels for teens.Noise levels are measured in decibels, also written as dB. Adults and children can suffer hearing loss from exposure to noises over 85 dB. 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. These professional earplugs are designed to fit perfectly in the teen’s ears. 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. To best protect the hearing of marching band members, a joint effort between students, band leaders, and parents is recommended.