Safety First: What All Marching Band Members Must Know about the Potential for Hearing Loss

Roughly 6 million teenagers in the United States suffer some form of loss of hearing, and this number has risen considerably over the past 20 years. In addition to the use of high-volume portable music players and mobile phones, experts say that teens’ participation in marching band is yet another possible cause of damage to hearing. Marching band is a favorite activity for teenagers, as bands are available in almost all large high schools and in almost every university.

Teens and loud sounds. Volume, or sound level, is measured in decibels (dB). Children and adults 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. 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.

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. Musicians earplugs can be expensive, which may be a problem for parents. 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. To best protect the hearing of marching band members, a joint effort between students, band leaders, and parents is recommended.

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