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

A ringing or buzzing sound is what most people hear when they suffer from tinnitus. But that classification, though helpful, is woefully inadequate. Tinnitus doesn’t always show up in one of those two ways. Rather, this particular hearing condition can make a veritable symphony of different noises. And that’s a significant fact.

That “ringing and buzzing” description can make it challenging for some people to determine if the sounds they’re hearing are actually 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 May Cause You to Hear These Sounds

Tinnitus is, generally, the sense of noises in your ears. In some cases, this noise actually exists (this is called objective tinnitus). And in other situations, it can be phantom sounds in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t actually exist and can’t be heard by others – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The specific type of sounds you hear will most likely depend on what type of tinnitus you have. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you may hear:

  • Static: The sound of static is another kind of tinnitus noise. Some people hear a high intensity static and others hear a low intensity static.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a rather distinct sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some individuals with tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s a buzzing rather than a ringing. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most common of the tinnitus sounds. Frequently, this is a high pitched whine or ring. Occasionally, this sound is even described as a “tone”. When the majority of individuals consider tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of metal grinding? You may have heard this sound if you’ve ever been near a construction site. But for individuals who cope with tinnitus, this sound is often heard.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by people who have objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing sound in the ears is often a result of circulation through blood vessels around the ear. You’re essentially hearing the sound of your own heart pumping blood.
  • Roaring: This one is often characterized as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. It might sound calming at first, but the truth is that the sound is much more overpowering than the gently rolling waves you may think.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it begins to boil? Sometimes, tinnitus can cause you to hear that specific high-pitched squeal. This one is obviously quite distressing.

Someone who is suffering from tinnitus might hear many potential noises and this list is hardly exhaustive.

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one noise. Brandon, for example, spent most of last week hearing a ringing sound. Now, after going out to a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static sound. It isn’t unusual for the noise you hear from tinnitus to change in this way – and it might change frequently.

It’s not well known why this occurs (mostly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t really well known).

Canceling Out Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will usually take two possible strategies: masking the noise or helping your brain determine 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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