Around 6 million U.S. teenagers have some form of hearing loss, which signifies an increase of approximately 33 % over the last twenty years. While authorities claim that this hearing loss is in part caused by sustained exposure to high volumes of music from phones and MP3 players, participation in marching band is yet another contributing cause. As nearly every city high school and college has a marching band, participation is a very common activity among teenagers.

Unsafe decibel levels for teens.Volume, or noise level, is measured in decibels (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. 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. These professional earplugs are designed to fit perfectly in the teen’s ears. 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. Parents, teens, and band leaders should work together to increase awareness and to implement strategies for protecting the hearing of marching band members.