Woman tries to identify the ringing, whooshing sound only she can hear.

Most individuals describe tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But that description, though helpful, is dismally inadequate. Those two sounds are not the only ways tinnitus manifests. Rather, this specific hearing disorder can make a veritable symphony of different noises. And that’s a substantial fact.

That “buzzing and ringing” classification can make it challenging for some people to identify if the sounds they’re hearing are really tinnitus symptoms. If Barb from down the road hears only crashing or whooshing in her ears, it might not even occur to her that tinnitus is responsible. So having a more comprehensive idea of what tinnitus sounds like can be good for everyone, Barb included.

A List of Sounds You May Hear With Tinnitus

Tinnitus is, in general, the sense of noises in your ears. In some cases, this noise actually exists (this is known as objective tinnitus). And at other times, it can be phantom noises in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t truly exist and isn’t heard by others – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The specific kind of sounds you hear will most likely depend on what type of tinnitus you have. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you might hear:

  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing not a ringing. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of grinding metal? Maybe you hear it when your neighbors are working on a construction project in their garage. But it’s the kind of sound that often comes up when a person is suffering from tinnitus.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum cleaner has a rather distinct sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some individuals who have tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most prevalent of the tinnitus noises. This is frequently a high pitched ring or whine. The ringing is frequently called a “tone”. When most individuals think of tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Whooshing: Commonly experienced by individuals who have objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing noise in the ears is often a result of circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this type of tinnitus, you’re basically hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Static: The sound of static is another kind of tinnitus noise. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static varies from person to person.
  • High-pitch whistle: Picture the sound of a boiling tea kettle. Occasionally, tinnitus can cause you to hear that specific high-pitched squeal. This one is obviously quite distressing.
  • Roaring: This one is usually described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. It may sound calming at first, but the reality is that the noise is much more overwhelming than the gently lapping waves you might imagine.

A person who has tinnitus may hear many possible noises and this list isn’t exhaustive.

Change Over Time

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one noise. Last week, for example, Brandon was hearing a ringing sound. Now, after going out to a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static noise. It isn’t unusual for the sound you hear from tinnitus to change like this – and it might change often.

It’s not well known why this occurs (that’s because we still don’t really know what the underlying causes of tinnitus are).

Treating Tinnitus

There are generally two possible approaches to treating tinnitus symptoms: masking the noise or helping your brain determine how to ignore the noise. Whatever your tinnitus sounds may be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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