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

Most individuals describe tinnitus as a ringing or buzzing sound. But that classification, though useful, is woefully inadequate. Tinnitus doesn’t always occur in one of those two ways. Actually, a large range of sounds can be heard as a result of this condition. And that’s a significant fact.

Because, as useful as that “buzzing and ringing” shorthand might be, such a limited description could make it challenging for some people to recognize their tinnitus symptoms. It might not even occur to your friend Barb that the whooshing and crashing sounds in her ears are caused by tinnitus. So having a more comprehensive understanding of what tinnitus sounds like can be positive for everyone, Barb included.

A List of Sounds You May Hear With Tinnitus

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the sense of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this is an actual noise (this is known as 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 known as subjective tinnitus). The type of tinnitus you’re dealing with will most likely (but not always) have an impact on the sound you hear. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you might hear:

  • Static: In some circumstances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and others hear a low intensity static.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing sound. Many individuals even hear what sounds like cicada’s or other insects.
  • Roaring: The sound of roaring ocean waves is another prevalent tinnitus sound. It might sound calming at first, but the truth is that the sound is much more overwhelming than the gently rolling waves you may imagine.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor in your vacuum has a distinct sound. Some people with tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.
  • High-pitch whistle: Picture the sound of a boiling tea kettle. Occasionally, tinnitus can sound like that particular high-pitched squeal. This one is obviously rather distressing.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of grinding metal? You may have heard this noise if you’ve ever been near a construction project. But it’s the kind of sound that often manifests when a person is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by people with objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing sound in the ears is often caused by circulation through blood vessels around the ear. You’re basically hearing the sound of your own heart pumping blood.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common sound, a ringing in the ears. This is often a high pitched ring or whine. Sometimes, this sound is even referred to as a “tone”. When the majority of people consider tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.

Someone who has tinnitus might hear many possible noises and this list isn’t exhaustive.

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

It’s also entirely possible for one person to hear numerous tinnitus-related sounds. Last week, for example, Brandon was hearing a ringing noise. Now, after going out to a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static noise. Tinnitus noises can and do change, sometimes regularly.

The reason for the change isn’t always well known (that’s because we still don’t really understand what the underlying causes of tinnitus are).

Treating Tinnitus

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