Hearing is precious -- like our eyes, ears are "one pair to a customer" and no artificial substitute exists. Protection for prolonged or repetitive loud sounds of any variety is necessary for persons of all ages -- including those still in school!
Many orchestra and band environments include sound exposures louder that those sugested by the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is a reality for anyone exposed to excessive sound levels over time. NIHL is permanent, progressive, and cannot be treated -- the main method of care is PREVENTION (caps intended!).
There are many types of hearing protection available to the musician today; I'd encourage those interested to go to the website of Etymotic Research, Inc., probably the premier provider of effective hearing protection items (www.etymotic.com/). Musician earplugs ("attenuators") come in several degrees of protection, and in seveal forms of plugs -- check out their site to see the possibilities.
I've used their 15 dBA attenuators for nearly 20 years, in band, orchestral, and chuirch settings. They have helped keep my NIHL levels quite stable for most of those years. I also encourage any young musician who is likely to be exposed to excesive sound pressure levels to obtrain a baseline audiogram, through his or her primany physician and performed by a licensed audiologist.
Dr. Bill Dawson, bassoonist and teacher
IDRS medical consultant
Past President, Performing Arts Medicine Assoc.
Author of "Fit as a Fiddle: The Musician's Guide to Playing Healthy"