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

Most people describe tinnitus as a ringing or buzzing sound. But tinnitus can’t always be categorized in this way. Those two sounds are not the only ways tinnitus occurs. Instead, this specific hearing disorder can make a veritable symphony of various sounds. And that’s important to note.

Because, as useful as that “ringing and buzzing” shorthand may be, such a restricted description could make it challenging for some individuals 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 everybody, including Barb, will profit from having a stronger concept of what tinnitus can sound like.

A List of Noises You May Hear With Tinnitus

Tinnitus is, in general, the sense of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this is a real noise (this is called objective tinnitus). And in other situations, it can be phantom noises in 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 kind of sounds you hear will most likely depend on what type of tinnitus you have. And there are a lot of possible sounds you could hear:

  • High-pitch whistle: Picture the sound of a boiling tea kettle. That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by those who have tinnitus. This one is undoubtedly quite distressing.
  • Static: In some cases, your tinnitus might sound like static. Some people hear a high intensity static and some hear a low intensity static.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most common of the tinnitus noises. This is frequently a high pitched ring or whine. In some cases, this sound is even described as a “tone”. When most people think of tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor inside of your vacuum has a unique sound. Some individuals who have tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by individuals who have objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing noise in the ears is often caused by circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this type of tinnitus, you’re basically hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Roaring: This one is often characterized as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. Initially, this sound may not be very unpleasant, but it can quickly become overwhelming.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing not a ringing. Many individuals even hear what sounds like cicada’s or other insects.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of grinding metal? You may have heard this sound if you’ve ever been near a construction project. But for people who cope with tinnitus, this sound is frequently heard.

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

Change Over Time

Someone with tinnitus can also experience more than one noise. Brandon, as an example, spent the majority of last week hearing a ringing noise. He met up with friends at a noisy restaurant last night and is now hearing a loud static noise. It isn’t unusual for the sound you hear from tinnitus to change like this – and it may change often.

It’s not well known why this happens (mainly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t always well known).

Treating Tinnitus

There are generally two potential strategies to treating tinnitus symptoms: masking the noise or helping your brain figure out how to dismiss the noise. Whatever your tinnitus sounds may be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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