Hearing Health Blog

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

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

Because, as useful as that “buzzing and ringing” shorthand may be, such a limited classification could make it difficult for some individuals to recognize their tinnitus symptoms. It may 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 profit from having a better concept of what tinnitus can sound like.

A List of Noises You May Hear With Tinnitus

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ears. In some cases, this noise really exists (this is called objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s a noise created in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t really exist and isn’t heard by others – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The exact type of sounds you hear will likely depend on what form of tinnitus you have. And you could potentially hear a number of different noises:

  • Buzzing: At times, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing sound. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
  • Ringing: We’ll begin with the most common sound, a ringing in the ears. This is often a high pitched ring or whine. In some cases, this sound is even described as a “tone”. When most people consider tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of grinding metal? Maybe you hear it when your neighbors are working on a building project in their garage. But for individuals who cope with tinnitus, this sound is frequently heard.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor inside of your vacuum has a distinct sound. Some individuals with tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Roaring: The noise of roaring ocean waves is another typical tinnitus sound. It might sound calming at first, but the truth is that the noise is much more overwhelming than the gently rolling waves you may imagine.
  • Whooshing: Commonly experienced by individuals with objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing sound in the ears is often caused by circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this form of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Static: In some cases, your tinnitus might sound like static. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static depends on the person and their distinct tinnitus.
  • High-pitch whistle: Image the sound of a whistling tea kettle. That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by tinnitus sufferers. This one is obviously quite unpleasant.

Someone who is suffering from tinnitus may hear lots of possible noises and this list isn’t complete.

Change Over Time

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one noise. Brandon, for instance, spent most 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 regularly.

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

Treating Tinnitus

There are typically two possible approaches to managing tinnitus symptoms: masking the noise or helping your brain determine how to ignore the noise. Whatever your tinnitus sounds might be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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