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

A buzzing and ringing sound is what most individuals hear when they have tinnitus. But tinnitus can’t always be categorized in this way. Tinnitus doesn’t always occur in one of those two ways. In fact, a huge range of sounds can be heard due to this condition. And that’s a significant fact.

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

A List of Noises You Might Hear With Tinnitus

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the sense of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this is a real noise (this is known as objective tinnitus). And at other times, it can be phantom noises in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t really exist and isn’t heard by others – that’s known as 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 possible sounds you could hear:

  • Roaring: This one is often described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. At first, this sound may not be all that unpleasant, but it can quickly become overpowering.
  • Buzzing: In some cases, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing sound. This buzzing can even sound like an insect or cicada.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? Occasionally, tinnitus can cause you to hear that specific high-pitched squeal. Needless to say, this one can be quite unpleasant.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by people who have objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing noise in the ears is often caused by circulation through blood vessels around the ear. You’re essentially hearing the sound of your own heart pumping blood.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most prevalent of the tinnitus sounds. This is frequently a high pitched ring or whine. The ringing is frequently called a “tone”. Ringing is probably what most people think about when they contemplate tinnitus.
  • 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 may have heard this noise if you’ve ever been around a construction project. But it’s the type of sound that often manifests when someone is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a very distinct sound, in part because of its electric motor. Some individuals with tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.

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

Change Over Time

It’s also totally feasible for one person to experience numerous tinnitus-related noises. Brandon, for example, spent the majority of last week hearing a ringing sound. Now, after eating at a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static noise. Tinnitus noises can and do change, sometimes frequently.

The explanation for the change isn’t really well known (that’s because we still don’t really know what the underlying causes of tinnitus are).

Treating Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will normally take two possible approaches: masking the noise or helping your brain determine how to dismiss the noise. And in either situation, that means helping you identify and familiarize yourself with the sounds of your tinnitus, whatever they might be.

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