Marching Band Musicians are at Very High Risk for Hearing Problems

Around six million U.S. teenagers have some form of hearing loss, which represents an increase of about a third over the last 2 decades. While authorities claim that this hearing loss is in part caused by regular exposure to high volumes of music from portable players and phones, taking part in marching band is yet another possible cause. As nearly every city high school and college has a marching band, band membership is a quite common activity among teens.

Unsafe decibel levels for teenagers.Noise levels are measured in decibels, also written as dB. Sounds in excess of 85 dB can lead to hearing loss in both children and adults. 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. 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. 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.