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Around six million U.S. teens have some form of hearing loss, which represents an increase of about a third over the last twenty years. Besides the use of high-volume portable music players and cell phones, experts say that teens’ involvement in marching band is another possible cause of damage to hearing. As nearly every urban high school and college has a marching band, participation is a very common activity among teenagers.

Teenagers and extreme sounds. Noise levels are measured in decibels, also written as dB. Adults and children can suffer hearing loss from exposure to noises 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. 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. 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. 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.