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 classified in this way. Tinnitus doesn’t always manifest in one of those two ways. Actually, a wide array of sounds can be heard as a result of this condition. And that’s a substantial fact.

That “buzzing and ringing” description can make it difficult for some people to decide if the sounds they’re hearing are really 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 having a more thorough understanding of what tinnitus sounds like can be good for everyone, Barb included.

A List of Noises You May Hear With Tinnitus

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the perception 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 noises in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t really exist and can’t be heard by others – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The variety of tinnitus you’re dealing with will most likely (but not always) have an effect on the noise you hear. And you could potentially hear a number of different noises:

  • High-pitch whistle: Think about that sound your tea kettle makes when it begins to boil? That specific high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by tinnitus sufferers. Not surprisingly, this one can be quite unpleasant.
  • Static: The sound of static is another type of tinnitus noise. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static depends on the person and their distinct tinnitus.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing not a ringing. This buzzing can even sound like an insect or cicada.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a fairly distinct sound, in part because of its electric motor. Some individuals who have tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • 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 referred to as a “tone”. Ringing is probably what most people think about when they contemplate tinnitus.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of grinding metal? Maybe you hear it when someone who lives near you is working on a construction project in their garage. But it’s the type of sound that often comes up when someone is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Whooshing: Commonly 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. With this form of tinnitus, you’re basically hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Roaring: This one is often characterized as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. 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 someone with tinnitus may hear.

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

Someone with tinnitus can also experience more than one sound. Last week, as an example, Brandon was hearing a ringing noise. Now, after eating at a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static noise. Tinnitus noises can and do change, sometimes regularly.

It’s not well understood why this happens (that’s because we still don’t really understand what the underlying causes of tinnitus are).

Canceling Out Tinnitus

There are usually two possible approaches to dealing with tinnitus symptoms: masking the noise or helping your brain figure out how to ignore the noise. Whatever your tinnitus sounds might be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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