Roughly six million teenagers in the United States suffer some type of loss of hearing, and this number has increased dramatically over the past 20 years. While experts say that this hearing loss is in part due to sustained exposure to high volumes of music from portable players and phones, participation in marching band is another possible cause. Marching band is a popular activity for teens, as bands can be found in almost all large high schools and in virtually every university.

Young people and loud sounds. Noise levels are measured in decibels, also written as dB. Adults and children can suffer hearing loss from exposure to sounds in excess of 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.

Strategies for hearing protection and hearing loss prevention. 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. 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. 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.