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

Most people refer to tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But that classification, though useful, is woefully insufficient. Tinnitus doesn’t always occur in one of those two ways. Actually, a large range of sounds can be heard as a result of this condition. And that’s important to note.

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

Tinnitus May Cause You to Hear These Sounds

Generally speaking, tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this is a real 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 really exist and isn’t heard by others – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The form of tinnitus you’re coping with will most likely (but not always) have an impact on the sound you hear. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you might hear:

  • Electric motor: The electric motor in your vacuum has a distinct sound. Some individuals with tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • 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 overpowering than the gently lapping waves you might think.
  • Buzzing: In some cases, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
  • 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.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most common of the tinnitus sounds. This is frequently a high pitched ring or whine. The ringing is often called a “tone”. Ringing is probably what the majority of people think about when they contemplate tinnitus.
  • Whooshing: Some individuals hear a whooshing noise caused by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a form of “objective tinnitus”. With this type of tinnitus, you’re basically hearing your own heartbeat.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it begins to boil? That specific high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by those who have tinnitus. This one is undoubtedly rather unpleasant.
  • 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 manifests when a person is experiencing tinnitus.

Someone who has tinnitus might hear many possible noises and this list isn’t complete.

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one noise. Brandon, as an example, spent most 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 noise. It isn’t unusual for the noise you hear from tinnitus to change like this – and it might change frequently.

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

Treating Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will usually take two possible approaches: helping your brain understand how to ignore the sound or masking the sound. And in either situation, that means helping you identify and get familiar with the sounds of your tinnitus, whatever they may be.

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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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