I had my hearing tested at a NAMM show a few years ago and the technician said they’d never seen a drummer with such good hearing. I believe this is because I’ve followed the advice given my 12 years ago by Josh Hecht, the man who taught me sound engineering and record production. Here is a paraphrase of it:

Your current ability to hear is a precious resource, especially if you intend to make your living using your ears, but even if you don’t.

The damage done to your ears by very loud or loud and sustained sounds, essentially a matting of the hairlike receptors in your inner ear, is cumulative and irreversible. The technology to make up for hearing loss is not adequate for someone who really values high quality hearing, and that is very likely to remain the case until after you are dead.

Therefore, it is in your best interest to protect your ears.

Are you embarrassed to plug your ears when an ambulance goes by or when your jet lands? Get over it. Your ears are way more important than your appearing tough or cool. If those sounds do not seem that loud to you, you probably already have some hearing loss. A tolerance for loud sounds is like a tolerance for alcohol–not a good sign. For some reason we think it’s cool when we’re young, but neither deafness or alcoholism are cool in the slightest.

If you need or want to be in places with loud sounds, wear earplugs. Carry them with you on your keychain. If your situation is very loud or very extended, try 30 dB logger’s earmuffs over 30 dB foam earplugs–both quite cheap and the combination is quite effective. If you want to listen to music in a loud place like a flight, try in-ear headphones* with logger earmuffs on top.

If you want or need to be in places with loud sounds like concerts or band practice, where hearing those sounds accurately is important, invest in some high quality earplugs. A couple of hundred dollars is nothing for a lifetime of good hearing.

*Be very careful with headphones. Loud sounds less than an inch from your eardrums are very dangerous. If you are in charge of your or someone else’s headphone volume, turn the volume all the way down, then put the phones on, then turn up, slowly, until they are loud enough. Never pull a plug on phones that are on ears. If you wear headphones a lot, try your normal volume (carefully!) on a young person with undamaged ears. If they say it is too loud, you probably have hearing loss.