Marching band?  Don’t forget the earplugs

Is your teenager headed to marching band practice? In addition to bottled water and sunscreen, you might also want to send them off with hearing protection.

Exposure to loud sounds can cause permanent hearing loss, depending on the loudness and the duration of the sound, as well as the presence of sudden bursts of extremely loud sound — a cymbal crash, for instance. The louder the sound, the shorter amount of time our ears can safely be exposed to it.

Etymotic Research found that the typical marching band produces 100 dB of sound. Band students may reach their daily dose of loud sound in just 15 minutes! A drumline averages 102 dB, which is safe for less than 10 minutes.

Some people are more susceptible to hearing loss from loud sounds than others. However, since hearing loss associated with loud sounds is permanent, taking care of ears is definitely recommended.

If your child complains of sound being muffled or ringing in the ears after band practice, damage to the ear has occurred and steps should be taken to prevent hearing loss. Even if your child does not notice any symptoms, hearing loss can occur gradually and may not be noticed for years after exposure. By the time the problem is noticed, the damage has already occurred. Therefore, prevention is critical.

Exposure to loud sound not only causes hearing loss. It also can cause tinnitus, a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear, as well as increased blood pressure. Keeping sound within safe limits is important for the whole body.

The good news is that hearing loss can be prevented. Foam earplugs are not recommended for music because they reduce high-frequency sounds more than low-frequency sounds, making the music sound distorted. Also they sometimes provide too much protection, preventing the student from hearing speech or soft sounds.

Specially designed earplugs are available for musicians that will reduce the loudness of sound while maintaining the clarity of the music. They reduce the sound equally at all frequencies. Thus, the balance of the sound is maintained but the sound is softer and safer.

Musicians often perform better as well, since the ear distorts sounds at high levels. Musician’s earplugs are available in custom-molded or generic forms and are surprisingly affordable.

Limiting exposure to loud sound outside of band can also help students protect their hearing. Reduce the volume and limit time spent listening to music with earphones. And stay away from other noisy activities for 16 hours after band practice. This gives the ear time to recover from the loud band music. The student should also use hearing protection when engaging in other noisy activities, such as mowing the lawn. Foam earplugs available at drugstores are great for those types of activities.

Consult an audiologist if you have concerns or need advice. Our team of audiologists at University Health System is skilled in helping resolve problems or prevent them before they happen. Call us at (210) 358-4583 if we can help.

Michelle Tejada is an audiologist and manager of the Hearing and Balance Center at University Health System

Photo by Bob Fishbeck, Armen tuba