To examine the risk for noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) in university marching band members and to provide an overview of a hearing conservation program for a marching band.
Sound levels during band rehearsals were recorded and audiometric hearing thresholds and transient otoacoustic emission were measured over a 3-year period. Musician’s earplugs and information about hearing loss were provided to the students. The hearing thresholds of other college students were tested as a partial control.
There were no significant differences in hearing thresholds between the two groups. During initial testing, more marching band members showed apparent high-frequency notches than control students. Follow-up hearing tests in a subsequent year for the marching band members showed that almost all notches disappeared. Persistent standard threshold shift (STS) across tests was not observed in the band members.
Band members showed no evidence of STS or persistent notched audiograms. Because accepted procedures for measuring hearing showed a lack of precision in reliably detecting early NIHL in marching band members, it is recommended that signs of NIHL be sought in repeated measurements compared to baseline audiograms rather than in a single measure (a single notch). A hearing conservation program for this population is still recommended because of lengthy rehearsal times with high sound-level exposure during rehearsals.