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

Most people refer to tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But tinnitus can’t always be classified in this way. Tinnitus doesn’t always occur in one of those two ways. In fact, a huge array of sounds can be heard due to this condition. And that’s important to note.

That “buzzing and ringing” classification can make it hard for some people to identify if the sounds they’re hearing are actually 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 everybody, including Barb, will benefit from having a better idea of what tinnitus can sound like.

A List of Sounds You Might Hear With Tinnitus

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this is an actual noise (this is called objective tinnitus). And at other times, it can be phantom sounds 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 you could potentially hear a lot of different noises:

  • Buzzing: In some cases, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing sound. This buzzing can even sound like an insect or cicada.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of metal grinding? You might have heard this sound if you’ve ever been near a construction site. But for people who experience tinnitus, this sound is often heard.
  • Static: In some instances, your tinnitus may sound like static. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and some hear a low intensity static.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common noise, a ringing in the ears. Usually, this is a high pitched whine or ring. Occasionally, this sound is even referred to as a “tone”. When most individuals think of tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor in your vacuum has a distinct sound. Tinnitus flare-up’s, for some people, manifest this particular sound.
  • Roaring: The sound of roaring ocean waves is another common tinnitus sound. It may sound calming at first, but the truth is that the sound is much more overpowering than the gently rolling waves you may imagine.
  • Whooshing: Commonly experienced by individuals who have objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing sound in the ears is often a result of circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this form of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • High-pitch whistle: Image the sound of a whistling tea kettle. That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by people with tinnitus. This one is undoubtedly quite unpleasant.

This list is not exhaustive, but it definitely begins to give you a picture of just how many potential sounds someone with tinnitus could hear.

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

It’s also entirely feasible for one person to experience a number of tinnitus-related noises. Last week, for example, Brandon was hearing a ringing noise. He met up with friends at a loud restaurant last night and now he’s hearing a loud static sound. Tinnitus sounds can and do change, sometimes regularly.

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

Treating Tinnitus

There are typically two potential approaches to treating tinnitus symptoms: helping your brain understand how to ignore the sound or masking the sound. And in either case, that means helping you identify and familiarize yourself with the sounds of your tinnitus, whatever they might be.

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