Not to brag, but I've always had exceptionally good hearing. Even at over 50, I can still hear to almost 15k, after a lifetime of engines, equipment and stereos. I've always semi protected it. Whenever it got uncomfortable, either working or listening, I would leave the concert, turn off the motor, whatever. No earplugs, I just limited the exposure. I went to see Ted Nugent while in high school at a fairly small venue. It hurt, my ears rang for 2 days. I never went to see him again until Damn Yankees came around, more than 20 yrs later and I took earplugs. I think that's when I became aware of what it could do to you.
It all changed 2 months ago. I went to bed. Laid down, immediately heard about a 500hz tone in my left ear for roughly 30-45 seconds. It stopped, there was pressure on the ear, and ringing in a fairly high frequency range. WTF. I figured a sinus infection had set in. Went to my local doctor, who saw no sign of infection, prescribed claritin for relief of sinus pressure. Told me to come back if it didn't stop. I knew of an excellent otolaryngologist about 35 m away in Pittsburg. I called and made an appointment. Took 2 months to get in. I went yesterday. 6k in my left ear is down 25db, 8k is down 50 db. That's as high as they test, their primary concern is speech intelligibilty, which only extends to 4k. Son of a bitch. For no apparent reason. It is internal, the bone conduction test confirmed it. Unfixable. He prescribed a nasal spray to relieve pressure which occurs occasionally. The real pisser is the constant tinnitus. It's not horrible, just annoying. And when I crank the ht, harmonics in that 6k-8k range can be painful.
What is, is. I'll learn to compensate. But the whole point of this is you have a sound in your head. It's always there. You just can't hear it. But if you damage your hearing, there it is, never to go away. When you're looking for the imaginary sound in your head that you want to hear, PROTECT against the real sound that exists in your head. I have some of these musicians earplugs that I've used religiously at every show since I started back doing sound. YOU NEED THESE. They work amazingly well, and are cheap. At a deafeningly loud metal show, one of the first after I got them. I had them in. A punter came up to talk and I could hear him perfectly. I pulled a plug to test and I could not understand him, at all. Freakin amazing.
Do your sound checks, put them in after about 5 minutes into the show. Pull them out occasionally to check. They'll also prevent creep which occurs as your ears get fatigued and you keep cranking the levels.
Ears are our business/hobby/passion. Don't let what you want to hear get drowned out by the sound in your head.