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

A buzzing and ringing sound is what the majority of people hear when they suffer from tinnitus. But that description, though helpful, is dismally insufficient. Tinnitus doesn’t always manifest in one of those two ways. In fact, a huge array of sounds can be heard as a result of this condition. And that’s important to note.

That “buzzing and ringing” description can make it challenging for some people to determine 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 having a more comprehensive notion of what tinnitus sounds like can be positive for everyone, including Barb.

Tinnitus May Cause You to Hear These Sounds

Tinnitus is, in general, the sound of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this is a real noise (this is known as objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s an artifact of your ears (which means that the noises can’t be heard by others and don’t actually exist – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The variety of tinnitus you’re coping with will likely (but not always) have an impact on the noise you hear. And there are a lot of possible sounds you might hear:

  • Ringing: We’ll begin with the most common noise, a ringing in the ears. This is frequently a high pitched ring or whine. The ringing is often called a “tone”. When the majority of individuals consider tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Roaring: This one is usually characterized as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. It might sound calming at first, but the reality is that the sound is much more overwhelming than the gently lapping waves you might think.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor in your vacuum has a unique sound. Some individuals who have tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Static: In some instances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and some hear a low intensity static.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by people with objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing noise in the ears is often a result of circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this kind of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of grinding metal? You may have heard this sound if you’ve ever been around a construction site. But it’s the kind of sound that often manifests when someone is suffering from tinnitus.
  • 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 unpleasant.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. Many people even hear what sounds like cicada’s or a variety of other insects.

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

Change Over Time

Someone with tinnitus can also experience more than one sound. Last week, for example, Brandon was hearing a ringing noise. He got together with friends at a noisy restaurant last night and is now hearing a loud static sound. Tinnitus sounds can and do change, sometimes regularly.

The reason for the change isn’t always well known (mostly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t always well known).

Treating Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will usually take two possible strategies: helping your brain learn to dismiss the sound or masking the sound. Whatever your tinnitus sounds may be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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