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

A ringing or buzzing sound is what the majority of people hear when they have tinnitus. But tinnitus can’t always be categorized like this. Those two noises are not the only ways tinnitus manifests. Rather, this specific hearing ailment can make a veritable symphony of different noises. And that’s important to note.

Because, as useful as that “ringing and buzzing” shorthand may be, such a restricted definition could make it challenging for some people to recognize their tinnitus symptoms. If Barb from down the street hears only crashing or whooshing in her ears, it may not even occur to her that tinnitus is to blame. So everyone, including Barb, will benefit from having a better idea of what tinnitus can sound like.

Tinnitus Might Cause You to Hear These Sounds

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ears. In some cases, this noise really exists (this is called objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s a noise created 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 form of tinnitus you have. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you might hear:

  • Whooshing: Commonly experienced by individuals with 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 type of tinnitus noise. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static varies from person to person.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of metal grinding? You might have heard this sound if you’ve ever been around a construction site. But it’s the type of sound that often manifests when a person is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Buzzing: In some cases, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing sound. Many people even hear what sounds like cicada’s or a variety of other insects.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum cleaner has a fairly specific sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some individuals with tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by people with tinnitus. Not surprisingly, this one can be quite unpleasant.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common sound, a ringing in the ears. Frequently, this is a high pitched whine or ring. Occasionally, this sound is even described as a “tone”. Ringing is probably what the majority of people think about when they contemplate tinnitus.
  • Roaring: This one is usually described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. It might sound calming at first, but the reality is that the noise is much more overpowering than the gently lapping waves you might imagine.

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 entirely feasible for one patient to experience numerous tinnitus-related sounds. Last week, for instance, Brandon was hearing a ringing noise. Now, after eating at a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static noise. Tinnitus noises can and do change, sometimes regularly.

It’s not well known why this happens (that’s because we still don’t really understand 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 figure out how to dismiss the noise. Whatever your tinnitus sounds might be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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