Eagan band sounds off about teen hearing loss

  • Article by: Wire services
  • Updated: February 23, 2013 - 3:17 PM

From top, Matthew Lim, 14, Charlie Worner, 14, and Liz Mushel, 17, joined hundreds of band members at Eagan High School that were fitted for custom-made noise protection devices to combat problems with hearing loss.

Photo: Photos by ELIZABETH FLORES • eflores@startribune.com ,

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Eagan band members are getting custom ear plugs to battle possible hearing loss.

Concerns about teenagers listening to loud music have been around since Elvis the Pelvis was gyrating on stages and television in the early days of rock and roll in the 1950s.

But the booming growth of personal listening devices, which can funnel noise as loud as 100 decibels into an ear, is leading to a growing problem of teenagers with diminished hearing, according to educators and ear care professionals.

Seeking to address the issue, Eagan High School this month fitted more than 150 band students with customized hearing protection. The ear plugs will arrive in the next week or so.

“This generation is exposed to higher noise,” said Brett Benson, a band director at Eagan High. “They’re getting exposed to it more frequently than any generation prior.”

Benson and other band directors at the school said the problem is especially pronounced among the thousands of band members in Minnesota because of the loud noise they are consistently exposed to by playing musical instruments.

Eagan High has about 320 kids in its various bands, ranging from pep and marching band to more specialized jazz and chamber music groupings.

Benson worked out an arrangement with Sonus Hearing Care Professionals, an Edina company with a number of branches in the Twin Cities metro area.

The company is selling the custom ear plugs to the students at a discounted price of $26. Normally they’d be three times that price, said Marshall Rosner, the company’s owner.

The American Academy of Audiology estimates that more than 5 million kids in the United States have diminished hearing due to noise, and the number is growing.

Rosner said that about 20 years ago only 1 in 100 teens around the country had hearing diminished by loud music or noise. Now, he said, the number is about 1 in 5.

“Years ago you didn’t see this incidence,” Rosner said. “What we’re trying to do is make kids aware that noise is bad for you in high doses. It is a cumulative effect. When we explain it, they understand it.”

Benson and other band directors, who already use custom ear protection, said they are seeing a growing number of students using ear plugs, but generally they are the soft disposable variety and not customized to their ears.

That was one of the reasons Benson contacted Sonus earlier this year: to increase the use of better ear protection. Ear plugs are not mandated by the school or state.

The custom ear plugs, if not lost, can be worn for years by the students, teachers said.

“My dad was like, ‘You better sign up for that,’ ”said Liz Mushel, 17, a clarinet player who was among the students to buy custom plugs. “I think it’s really cool. It’s good to have protection, otherwise your hearing is going down the drain. I want to save my hearing.”

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  • Eagan High School band members practiced as they took turns getting fitted for custom-made noise protection to combat hearing loss. Band director Brett Benson said he hopes to make the ear plug fitting an annual event.

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