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

Most people describe tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But that description, though helpful, is woefully inadequate. Those two noises are not the only ways tinnitus occurs. Actually, a wide array of sounds can be heard due to this condition. And that’s important to note.

Because, as useful as that “buzzing and ringing” shorthand may be, such a limited definition could make it challenging for some individuals to recognize their tinnitus symptoms. It might not even occur to your friend Barb that the whooshing and crashing sounds in her ears are caused by tinnitus. So having a more comprehensive idea of what tinnitus sounds like can be good for everyone, Barb included.

Tinnitus May Cause You to Hear These Noises

Tinnitus is, generally, the sound of noises in your ears. In some cases, this noise really exists (this is called objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s an artifact of your ears (which means that the sounds can’t be heard by others and don’t really exist – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The type of tinnitus you’re coping with will likely (but not always) have an impact on the sound you hear. And you could potentially hear a lot of different sounds:

  • High-pitch whistle: Think about that sound your tea kettle makes when it begins to boil? Occasionally, tinnitus can sound like that particular high-pitched squeal. This one is obviously rather distressing.
  • Whooshing: Some people hear a whooshing sound caused by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a kind of “objective tinnitus”. With this kind of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing rather than a ringing. Many individuals even hear what sounds like cicada’s or other insects.
  • Ringing: We’ll begin with the most common sound, a ringing in the ears. This is often a high pitched ring or whine. The ringing is often called a “tone”. When most individuals think of tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of metal grinding? Maybe you hear it when your neighbors are working on a building project in their back yard. But it’s the kind of sound that often manifests when a person is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Roaring: This one is usually described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. Initially, this sound might not be all that unpleasant, but it can quickly become overpowering.
  • 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.
  • Static: The sound of static is another type of tinnitus noise. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and some hear a low intensity static.

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

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

Someone with tinnitus can also experience more than one noise. Last week, for instance, Brandon was hearing a ringing sound. Now, after eating at a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static noise. It isn’t uncommon for the sound you hear from tinnitus to change in this way – and it may change often.

The explanation for the change isn’t always well known (mainly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t really well known).

Treating Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will normally take two possible strategies: helping your brain learn to ignore 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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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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