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

Most individuals refer to tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But tinnitus can’t always be categorized in this way. Tinnitus doesn’t always show up in one of those two ways. Instead, this specific hearing ailment can make a veritable symphony of various noises. And that’s important to note.

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. If Barb from down the road hears only whooshing or crashing in her ears, it might not even occur to her that tinnitus is to blame. So everyone, including Barb, will profit from having a better concept of what tinnitus can sound like.

Tinnitus Might Cause You to Hear These Sounds

Tinnitus is, in general, the sound of noises in your ears. In some cases, this noise really exists (this is called objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s a noise created in your ears (which means that the noises can’t be heard by others and don’t really exist – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The exact type of sounds you hear will likely depend on what type of tinnitus you have. And you could potentially hear a lot of different noises:

  • High-pitch whistle: Picture the sound of a whistling tea kettle. Occasionally, tinnitus can sound like that particular high-pitched squeal. This one is obviously quite distressing.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of metal grinding? You may have heard this noise if you’ve ever been near a construction site. But it’s the type of sound that often manifests when someone is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most prevalent of the tinnitus noises. Usually, this is a high pitched whine or ring. Sometimes, this sound is even described as a “tone”. When most individuals think of tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Static: In some circumstances, your tinnitus may sound like static. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and others hear a low intensity static.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by people with objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing noise in the ears is often a result of circulation through blood vessels around the ear. You’re basically hearing the sound of your own heart pumping blood.
  • Buzzing: In some cases, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. This buzzing sometimes even sounds 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.
  • Roaring: The noise of roaring ocean waves is another typical tinnitus sound. At first, this sound might not be all that unpleasant, but it can quickly become overwhelming.

This list is not exhaustive, but it definitely begins to give you an idea of just how many possible sounds a person with tinnitus may hear.

Change Over Time

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

It’s not well known why this happens (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 determine how to ignore the noise. Whatever your tinnitus sounds may be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.