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

Most individuals refer to tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But tinnitus can’t always be classified in this way. Those two sounds are not the only ways tinnitus manifests. Instead, this specific hearing ailment can make a veritable symphony of different noises. And that’s a substantial fact.

That “ringing and buzzing” description can make it challenging for some people to identify if the sounds they’re hearing are genuinely tinnitus symptoms. It may not even occur to your friend Barb that the whooshing and crashing sounds in her ears are caused by tinnitus. So everyone, including Barb, will benefit from having a better concept of what tinnitus can sound like.

Tinnitus May Cause You to Hear These Noises

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this is an actual noise (this is known as objective tinnitus). And in other situations, it can be phantom sounds in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t truly exist and can’t be heard by others – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The specific kind of sounds you hear will likely depend on what type of tinnitus you have. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you may hear:

  • Whooshing: Some individuals hear a whooshing noise caused by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a kind of “objective tinnitus”. You’re basically hearing the sound of your own heart pumping blood.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a rather specific sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some individuals who have tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Buzzing: In some cases, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. Many people even hear what sounds like cicada’s or a variety of other insects.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of metal grinding? Maybe you hear it when your neighbors are working on a building project in their garage. But for people who cope with tinnitus, this sound is frequently heard.
  • Roaring: This one is usually characterized as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. Initially, this sound may not be all that unpleasant, but it can quickly become overpowering.
  • Static: The sound of static is another type of tinnitus noise. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and others hear a low intensity static.
  • 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 often called a “tone”. When the majority of individuals consider tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it begins to boil? That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by people with tinnitus. This one is obviously quite unpleasant.

This list is not exhaustive, but it certainly begins to give you a notion of just how many possible sounds a person with tinnitus may hear.

Change Over Time

It’s also totally possible for one patient to experience a number of tinnitus-related noises. Brandon, as an example, spent the majority of last week hearing a ringing sound. He got together with friends at a noisy restaurant last night and is now hearing a loud static sound. Tinnitus noises can and do change, sometimes frequently.

It’s not well understood why this occurs (mainly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t really well known).

Treating Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will usually take two possible approaches: helping your brain understand how to dismiss the sound or masking the sound. Whatever your tinnitus sounds might be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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