Hearing Health Blog

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

A buzzing and ringing sound is what most individuals hear when they have tinnitus. But tinnitus can’t always be categorized in this way. Tinnitus doesn’t always manifest in one of those two ways. Instead, this specific hearing ailment can make a veritable symphony of various sounds. And that’s important to note.

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

Tinnitus May Cause You to Hear These Noises

Tinnitus is, in general, the sound of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this noise actually exists (this is called objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s a noise created 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 type of sounds you hear will most likely depend on what form of tinnitus you have. And there are a lot of possible sounds you could hear:

  • Static: In some circumstances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static varies from person to person.
  • Whooshing: Commonly experienced by people with objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing noise in the ears is often caused by circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this form of tinnitus, you’re basically hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing not a ringing. This buzzing can even sound like an insect or cicada.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most common of the tinnitus noises. This is frequently a high pitched ring or whine. Occasionally, this sound is even described as a “tone”. When the majority of people think of tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of metal grinding? Maybe you hear it when your neighbors are working on a construction project in their garage. But for individuals who experience tinnitus, this sound is frequently heard.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor inside of your vacuum has a distinct sound. Tinnitus flare-up’s, for some individuals, manifest this exact sound.
  • Roaring: This one is often characterized as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. It might sound calming at first, but the reality is that the sound is much more overwhelming than the gently rolling waves you might imagine.
  • High-pitch whistle: Picture the sound of a boiling tea kettle. That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by those who have tinnitus. Not surprisingly, this one can be quite annoying.

Someone who is suffering from tinnitus may hear lots of possible noises and this list is hardly complete.

Change Over Time

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one sound. Last week, for instance, Brandon was hearing a ringing sound. Now, after eating at a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static sound. Tinnitus sounds can and do change, sometimes frequently.

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

Canceling Out Tinnitus

There are generally two potential approaches to dealing with tinnitus symptoms: helping your brain learn to dismiss the sound or masking the sound. Whatever your tinnitus sounds may be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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