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Music in schools month: protecting your kids’ hearing in school

Contributed by | Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

When you think about the dangerous extracurricular activities your child might participate in, a music program probably isn’t at the top of your list. You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that football, bicycles and basketball are the top three sport-related reasons children visited the emergency room in recent years, but did you know the biggest threat to their hearing health may be noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) caused by loud music? While broken bones mend and wounds can be stitched, long-term effects from NIHL from constant exposure to loud music can be as permanent as brain damage from concussions received in a contact sport. 

Band isn't typically thought of as a dangerous
activity. But did you know that excessive 
exposure to loud music can cause irreversible 
hearing loss? Consider buying protective ear 
plugs when you purchase your child's 

So, as we celebrate the National Association for Music Education’s (NAfME) annual Music in our Schools Month, let’s remember to encourage our young musicians to protect their hearing. Doing so will ensure they continue to enjoy the music they create – and enjoy the music others create — for a lifetime.

What is noise-induced hearing loss?

All of us are exposed to noise in our environments; however, it becomes damaging to our hearing when we are exposed to sudden, brief loud noises or those which exceed 85 decibels (dB) over a long period of time. These sounds damage the delicate hair cells in the inner ear, which are responsible for translating the noise our ears collect into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret as recognizable sound.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), NIHL can happen to individuals of all ages and can be temporary (think how your ears ring after attending a rock concert) or permanent. The NIDCD estimates that 26 million Americans have hearing loss that may have been caused by noise in the workplace or from leisure activities.

As for our youth, in a Fall 2012 issue of Contemporary Issues in Communication Science and Disorders, researchers said 16 percent of teenagers are estimated to have NIHL, with listening to loud music for extended periods of time on personal electronic devices as one of the contributing factors. An examination of 329 musicians age 18 to 25 found that 45 percent had NIHL.

Musicians and noise-induced hearing loss

Hearing health professionals have known for years that musicians are at greater risk for developing hearing loss and health studies confirm their suspicions.

Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Prevention Research and Epidemiology who studied the health insurance records of more than seven million people from 2004 to 2008 found that professional musicians were 3.6 more likely to suffer noise-induced deafness and 57 percent more likely to suffer from tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears. Pete Townshend, Ozzy Osbourne, Neil Young and Phil Collins are examples of famous musicians who developed hearing loss as a result of their profession.

String sections tend to produce sound levels on the lower end of the spectrum, while brass, percussion and woodwind sections produce sound levels on the higher end of the spectrum. Using (dB) and below as safe levels for hearing health, here are examples of how loud instruments and other musical environments measure up:

  • Piano – fluctuates between 60 and 70 dB
  • Violin – 84-103 dB
  • Cello – 82-92 dB
  • Flute – 85-111 dB
  • Piccolo – 95-112 dB
  • Clarinet – 92-103 dB
  • French horn – 90-106 dB
  • Trombone – 85-114 dB
  • Timpani and bass drum rolls – 106 dB
  • MP3 player at maximum volume – 105 dB
  • Rock concert – 115 dB


The good news is educators are doing their best to keep your child’s hearing from being damaged as a result of loud music.

In July 2013, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) announced a collaboration with the Bach to Rock (B2R) music school to foster hearing protection education in its growing network of schools.The collaboration built on the relationship that began with the “Listen to Your Buds” campaign, an effort that educates children about the importance of listening to personal electronic devices safely.

Additionally, the National Association of Schools of Music Performing Arts Medicine Association publishes information and recommendations for student musicians. In the eight page document, they educate students about the importance of protecting their hearing and list these suggestions for hearing conservation:

  1. When possible, avoid situations that put your hearing health at risk.
  2. Refrain from behaviors that put your hearing health, and others hearing health, at risk.
  3. If you know you’ll be in a noisy environment for a long period of time, try to keep your distance from the source of the sound.
  4. When attending concerts, be mindful of where you sit. Try to avoid sitting or standing too close to the stage or to the speakers and use earplugs.
  5. Keep the volume of your music and your listening devices at a safe level.
  6. Take breaks during practice sessions to give your ears some quiet time.
  7. Use ear plugs in noisy environments and when operating noisy equipment.

Keeping your child’s hearing safe

For the most part, music is good for your child’s hearing and his brain. A recent study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found that playing music helped kids’ brains process language. And, since we know that hearing takes place in the brain, it only makes sense to encourage activities that strengthen that relationship.

If your child is a music aficionado, make sure they keep the volume of personal electronic devices at safe levels. If your child is enrolled in a school music program, talk to administrators to make sure they are providing your child with appropriate hearing protection. If necessary, your hearing healthcare professional can help you find a source for custom hearing protection specifically for their musical environment. As always, if you need to find a trusted professional in your community, visit our directory.

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