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

Most individuals describe tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But tinnitus can’t always be classified in this way. Tinnitus doesn’t always manifest in one of those two ways. Instead, this particular hearing disorder can make a veritable symphony of different noises. And that’s important to note.

Because, as useful as that “ringing and buzzing” shorthand might be, such a restricted definition could make it challenging for some people to recognize their tinnitus symptoms. If Barb from down the road hears only crashing or whooshing in her ears, it may not even occur to her that tinnitus is responsible. So having a more comprehensive understanding of what tinnitus sounds like can be positive for everyone, Barb included.

Tinnitus May Cause You to Hear These Noises

Tinnitus is, generally, the sound of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this is a real noise (this is called objective tinnitus). And at other times, it can be phantom sounds in your ears (which means that the sounds can’t be heard by others and don’t actually exist – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The exact type of sounds you hear will most likely depend on what form of tinnitus you suffer from. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you may hear:

  • High-pitch whistle: Image the sound of a boiling tea kettle. Occasionally, tinnitus can sound like that particular high-pitched squeal. Not surprisingly, this one can be quite annoying.
  • Whooshing: Some individuals hear a whooshing noise caused by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a form of “objective tinnitus”. You’re essentially hearing the sound of your own heart pumping blood.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor inside of your vacuum has a unique sound. Some people who have tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common sound, a ringing in the ears. This is often a high pitched ring or whine. In some cases, this sound is even referred to as a “tone”. Ringing is probably what the majority of people think about when they contemplate tinnitus.
  • 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.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of grinding metal? Maybe you hear it when your neighbors are working on a construction project in their back yard. But it’s the kind of sound that often comes up when a person is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Roaring: This one is usually characterized as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. Initially, this sound might not be all that unpleasant, but it can quickly become overwhelming.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s a buzzing rather than a ringing. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.

This list is not exhaustive, but it certainly starts to give you an idea of just how many possible sounds someone with tinnitus could hear.

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

It’s also totally feasible for one individual to hear numerous tinnitus-related noises. Brandon, for instance, spent the majority of last week hearing a ringing noise. Now, after eating at a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static noise. It isn’t abnormal for the noise you hear from tinnitus to change in this way – and it might change frequently.

It’s not well known why this happens (mainly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t always well known).

Treating Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will usually take two possible strategies: 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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