Matthew Lim grimaced, then laughed, as the pink gel slid into his ear canal.
"It felt squishy, yet firm at the same time," he said following the experience. "It was weird."
Lim, a 14-year-old clarinet player at Eagan High School, was one of roughly 160 students—many of them EHS band members—to get an ear canal mold taken on Wednesday morning as part of a unique hearing protection program implemented by EHS Band Director Brett Benson.
Worried about progressive hearing loss among band students who are regularly exposed to high sound volumes during band practice, Benson partnered with Sonus Hearing Care Professionals.
The Edina business visited the high school several weeks ago to conduct a hearing screening among EHS band students. On Wednesday, Sonus returned—this time to collect the pink gel ear molds that will serve as the basis for their individualized ear plugs, which the students will receive in two or three weeks.
"Depending on the ensemble, a marching band playing on field outside is less intense than a jazz band reheasal inside [the high school band room]," Benson said. "If you get the right ensemble doing the right thing, it could easily cross 100 decibels."
Benson, a percussionist who has for years worn ear protection during rehearsals, said five of the 57 EHS students given hearing screenings by Sonus showed substantial hearing loss, while roughly half demostrated a limited degree of hearing loss.
Benson and Sonus owner Marshall Rosner attribute hearing loss in students to prevalent use of iPods, earbuds and other musical devices.
"I have college-aged kids myself, and they're always with the earbuds, and those earbuds can produce up to 110 decibels," Rosner said. "If you pump 110 decibels into it, that can damage your hearing in a couple of days."
While hearing loss from musical devices or noisy band practices is easily preventable, Benson said, many of his students weren't aware of the risks. That's why Benson and several other members of the EHS band program made a personal effort earlier this year to explain the effects of progressive hearing damage.
Their shared perspectives made an impact on 14-year-old trombone player Thomas Adams.
"I've never really thought about it," Adams said of hearing loss. "The way they described sounds like it’s a lot bigger deal than people think."
Classmate Matthew Lim agreed.
“It gets pretty loud with trumpets behind us blaring,” Lim said. “But we get used to it, hearing it everyday."
Students volunteered to participate in the hearing screenings and wear the ear plugs, which cost $26 to purchase. But Benson hopes to eventually make hearing protection a mandatory aspect of the band program.
For Benson, awareness is also important.
“When I spoke to the bands, describing what hearing loss and tinnitus can do ... you could see the light bulb go on, students saying 'Yeah my ears do ring once in a while, my ears do hurt once in a while," Benson said.