Hearing Health Blog

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

Most people describe tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But that classification, though helpful, is dismally insufficient. Tinnitus doesn’t always occur in one of those two ways. In fact, a large range of sounds can be heard as a result of this condition. And that’s a substantial fact.

That “ringing and buzzing” description can make it challenging for some people to identify if the sounds they’re hearing are actually tinnitus symptoms. If Barb from down the road hears only crashing or whooshing in her ears, it might not even occur to her that tinnitus is to blame. So everybody, including Barb, will profit from having a stronger concept of what tinnitus can sound like.

A List of Sounds You Might Hear With Tinnitus

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this is an actual noise (this is called objective tinnitus). And in other situations, it can be phantom noises in your ears (which means that the sounds can’t be heard by others and don’t really exist – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The exact kind of sounds you hear will most likely depend on what type of tinnitus you have. And you could possibly hear a lot of different sounds:

  • 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.
  • Roaring: This one is often described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. It may sound calming at first, but the truth is that the noise is much more overwhelming than the gently lapping waves you may think.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing not a ringing. This buzzing can even sound like an insect or cicada.
  • High-pitch whistle: Picture the sound of a whistling tea kettle. That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by tinnitus sufferers. This one is undoubtedly quite distressing.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor inside of your vacuum has a distinct sound. Tinnitus flare-up’s, for some individuals, manifest this particular sound.
  • Whooshing: Commonly experienced by individuals who have 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 essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common sound, a ringing in the ears. Usually, this is a high pitched whine or ring. In some cases, this sound is even described 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 building project in their back yard. But it’s the type of sound that often comes up when a person is experiencing tinnitus.

This list is not exhaustive, but it definitely starts to give you a picture 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 noise. Brandon, as an example, spent most of last week hearing a ringing sound. He got together with friends at a noisy restaurant last night and now he’s hearing a loud static sound. Tinnitus sounds can and do change, sometimes frequently.

It’s not well known why this occurs (that’s because we still don’t really know what the root causes of tinnitus are).

Treating Tinnitus

There are usually two possible strategies to treating tinnitus symptoms: masking the noise or helping your brain figure out 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.
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