I developed tinnitus a little over a year ago. It appeared suddenly and without warning, not gradually. Since then, I live with a permanent very high-pitched whistle with some white noise in both ears, a little worse on the left. There is no known treatment for tinnitus, and its effects are permanent. (This noise will most likely be with me until the day I die.)
I don't have proof positive of course, but it seems likely that my drumming is at least partly responsible. Eight to ten hours of drumming a week, with sound levels well in excess of 100dB...
Since then, I bought musicians earplugs. The ones I use are the Etymotic ER-20
. They work well and reduce volume considerably.
It's not ideal playing with them on--the high end gets reduced more than the low end, so things sound a little muffled and dull. I find that the earplugs disconnect me from the music and the other players somewhat so, when playing with them, it seems that I lose some of the edge in my playing and some of the impact and immediacy of the music. But it's better than losing my hearing... (I do take them out when I perform though because I want to feel and be with all
of the music then.)
But let's not kid ourselves: hearing damage is a serious risk for a drummer. When you look up workplace health and safety rules in many countries, you'll find that > 100dB sound level is classified as dangerous, leading to permanent hearing loss over time; any employer subjecting his employees to that kind of sound level even for short periods would find themselves in court in no time at all...
So I recommend that people wear earplugs, at least for practice and drum classes. Doing this may well save their hearing. And the hideous thing is that, if people don't protect their ears, they will be just fine for a long time, so they tend to think that hearing protection is not necessary until, one day, their ears suddenly are not fine and irreversibly damaged...