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

A buzzing and ringing sound is what the majority of people hear when they suffer from tinnitus. But that classification, though helpful, is dismally inadequate. Tinnitus doesn’t always show up in one of those two ways. Rather, this particular hearing disorder can make a veritable symphony of different noises. And that’s important to note.

Because, as useful as that “buzzing and ringing” shorthand might be, such a limited definition could make it difficult for some people to identify 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 comprehensive understanding of what tinnitus sounds like can be positive for everyone, including Barb.

A List of Noises You May Hear With Tinnitus

Tinnitus is, in general, the sound of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this is an actual noise (this is known as 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 called subjective tinnitus). The form of tinnitus you’re coping with will most likely (but not always) have an effect on the sound you hear. And you could possibly hear a lot of different noises:

  • Static: In some circumstances, your tinnitus may sound like static. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static depends on the person and their distinct tinnitus.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of grinding metal? You might have heard this sound if you’ve ever been around a construction project. But it’s the type of sound that often comes up when someone is suffering from tinnitus.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor in your vacuum has a unique sound. Tinnitus flare-up’s, for some people, manifest this exact sound.
  • Roaring: The sound of roaring ocean waves is another common tinnitus sound. Initially, this sound may not be all that unpleasant, but it can quickly become overwhelming.
  • Whooshing: Commonly experienced by individuals with 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.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most prevalent of the tinnitus sounds. Usually, this is a high pitched whine or ring. The ringing is often called a “tone”. When most individuals consider tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? That specific high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by tinnitus sufferers. This one is obviously quite unpleasant.

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

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

It’s also entirely possible for one person to experience multiple tinnitus-related noises. Brandon, for instance, spent most of last week hearing a ringing noise. He got together with friends at a loud restaurant last night and is now hearing a loud static noise. Tinnitus sounds can and do change, sometimes regularly.

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

Canceling Out Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will normally take two possible approaches: masking the noise or helping your brain determine 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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