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

Most people refer to tinnitus as a ringing or buzzing sound. But tinnitus can’t always be categorized like this. Tinnitus doesn’t always occur in one of those two ways. Instead, this particular hearing disorder can make a veritable symphony of various noises. And that’s important to note.

That “ringing and buzzing” classification can make it hard for some people to identify if the sounds they’re hearing are really tinnitus symptoms. It might not even occur to your friend Barb that the crashing and whooshing sounds in her ears are caused by tinnitus. So having a more thorough understanding of what tinnitus sounds like can be positive for everyone, including Barb.

Tinnitus Might Cause You to Hear These Noises

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the sense of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this noise actually exists (this is called objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s an artifact of your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t truly exist and can’t be heard by others – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The exact 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 might hear:

  • Roaring: The sound of roaring ocean waves is another common 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 might imagine.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of metal grinding? You might have heard this noise if you’ve ever been near a construction site. But it’s the type of sound that often comes up when a person is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most common of the tinnitus sounds. This is frequently a high pitched ring or whine. Sometimes, this sound is even described as a “tone”. When the majority of people consider tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? Occasionally, tinnitus can sound like that particular high-pitched squeal. This one is obviously quite distressing.
  • Whooshing: Some people hear a whooshing noise triggered by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a kind of “objective tinnitus”. With this kind of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Static: The sound of static is another kind of tinnitus noise. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and some hear a low intensity static.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a rather specific sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some people who have tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s a buzzing rather than a ringing. Many people even hear what sounds like cicada’s or other insects.

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

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one noise. Last week, for instance, Brandon was hearing a ringing sound. He got together with friends at a noisy restaurant last night and now he’s hearing a loud static noise. It isn’t abnormal for the sound you hear from tinnitus to change in this way – and it may change frequently.

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

Canceling Out Tinnitus

There are generally two potential approaches to treating tinnitus symptoms: 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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