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

Most individuals refer to tinnitus as a ringing or buzzing sound. But that classification, though helpful, is woefully insufficient. Those two sounds are not the only ways tinnitus manifests. Rather, this particular hearing disorder can make a veritable symphony of different sounds. And that’s important to note.

Because, as useful as that “buzzing and ringing” shorthand might be, such a limited definition could make it challenging for some individuals to recognize their tinnitus symptoms. It may not even occur to your friend Barb that the whooshing and crashing sounds in her ears are caused by tinnitus. So having a more thorough understanding of what tinnitus sounds like can be good for everyone, including Barb.

Tinnitus Might Cause You to Hear These Sounds

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the sense of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this noise actually exists (this is called objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s a noise created in your ears (which means that the sounds can’t be heard by others and don’t really exist – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The type of tinnitus you’re coping with will likely (but not always) have an impact on the sound you hear. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you might hear:

  • High-pitch whistle: Think about that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? Sometimes, tinnitus can cause you to hear that particular high-pitched squeal. Needless to say, this one can be quite annoying.
  • Roaring: This one is often described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. It may sound calming at first, but the reality is that the sound is much more overwhelming than the gently lapping waves you may imagine.
  • Static: The sound of static is another kind of tinnitus noise. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static depends on the person and their distinct tinnitus.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by people with objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing sound 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.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of metal grinding? You may have heard this sound if you’ve ever been around a construction project. But for individuals who experience tinnitus, this sound is often heard.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a rather specific sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some individuals who have tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. Many people even hear what sounds like cicada’s or a variety of other insects.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common sound, a ringing in the ears. Usually, this is a high pitched whine or ring. The ringing is often called a “tone”. When the majority of individuals consider tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.

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

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

It’s also entirely feasible for one patient to experience multiple tinnitus-related noises. Last week, for instance, Brandon was hearing a ringing sound. He met up with friends at a loud restaurant last night and now he’s hearing a loud static sound. It isn’t abnormal for the noise you hear from tinnitus to change in this way – and it may change often.

The reason for the change isn’t always well understood (that’s because we still don’t really understand what the underlying causes of tinnitus are).

Treating Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will typically take two possible strategies: masking the noise or helping your brain determine how to ignore the noise. And in either situation, that means helping you identify and familiarize yourself with the sounds of your tinnitus, whatever they might be.

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