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

A ringing or buzzing sound is what most people hear when they have tinnitus. But that description, though useful, is dismally inadequate. Tinnitus doesn’t always show up in one of those two ways. In fact, a wide range of sounds can be heard due to this condition. And that’s a substantial fact.

Because, as useful as that “ringing and buzzing” shorthand may be, such a limited definition could make it challenging for some people to recognize their 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 having a more thorough understanding of what tinnitus sounds like can be good for everyone, Barb included.

Tinnitus Might Cause You to Hear These Sounds

Tinnitus is, generally, the sense of noises in your ears. In some cases, this noise really exists (this is known as objective tinnitus). And at other times, it can be phantom sounds in 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 form of tinnitus you’re coping with will most likely (but not always) have an impact on the noise you hear. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you could hear:

  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most common of the tinnitus noises. Usually, this is a high pitched whine or ring. Sometimes, this sound is even described as a “tone”. Ringing is probably what the majority of people think about when they contemplate tinnitus.
  • High-pitch whistle: Think about that sound your tea kettle makes when it begins to boil? Sometimes, tinnitus can cause you to hear that specific high-pitched squeal. Needless to say, this one can be quite annoying.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of grinding metal? You may have heard this noise if you’ve ever been around a construction site. But for people who experience tinnitus, this sound is commonly heard.
  • Roaring: The noise of roaring ocean waves is another typical tinnitus sound. At first, this sound may not be very unpleasant, but it can quickly become overwhelming.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing not a ringing. This buzzing can even sound like an insect or cicada.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum cleaner has a very specific sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some people with tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Static: In some instances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and others hear a low intensity static.
  • Whooshing: Some people hear a whooshing sound caused by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a form of “objective tinnitus”. With this form of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.

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

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

It’s also totally feasible for one patient to hear multiple tinnitus-related sounds. Last week, as an example, Brandon was hearing a ringing sound. Now, after eating at 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 may change frequently.

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

Treating Tinnitus

There are typically two potential approaches to treating tinnitus symptoms: masking the noise or helping your brain determine how to dismiss the noise. And in either situation, that means helping you identify and get familiar with the sounds of your tinnitus, whatever they may be.

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