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

A ringing or buzzing sound is what the majority of people hear when they have tinnitus. But tinnitus can’t always be categorized like this. Those two sounds are not the only ways tinnitus occurs. Actually, a huge range of sounds can be heard as a result of this condition. And that’s a significant fact.

Because, as useful as that “buzzing and ringing” shorthand may be, such a limited classification could make it difficult for some individuals to identify their tinnitus symptoms. It may not even occur to your friend Barb that the whooshing and crashing sounds in her ears are a result of tinnitus. So everybody, including Barb, will benefit from having a better idea of what tinnitus can sound like.

A List of Sounds You Might Hear With Tinnitus

Generally speaking, tinnitus is the sense of noise in the 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 actually exist and can’t be heard by others – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The specific type of sounds you hear will likely depend on what type of tinnitus you have. And there are a lot of possible sounds you could hear:

  • Static: In some cases, your tinnitus may sound like static. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and some hear a low intensity static.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common noise, a ringing in the ears. This is often a high pitched ring or whine. The ringing is often called a “tone”. Ringing is probably what most people think about when they consider tinnitus.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing not a ringing. This buzzing can even sound like an insect or cicada.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by people who have objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing sound in the ears is often caused by circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this kind of tinnitus, you’re basically hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of metal grinding? You might have heard this noise if you’ve ever been around a construction site. But it’s the type of sound that often comes up when someone is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a rather specific sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some individuals who have tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Roaring: This one is often described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. Initially, this sound may not be all that unpleasant, but it can quickly become overpowering.
  • High-pitch whistle: Think about that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? Sometimes, tinnitus can sound like that particular high-pitched squeal. This one is obviously quite distressing.

A person who has tinnitus may hear many potential noises and this list isn’t exhaustive.

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one sound. Brandon, for example, spent most of last week hearing a ringing noise. Now, after going out to a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static sound. It isn’t uncommon for the sound you hear from tinnitus to change like this – and it may change frequently.

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

Canceling Out Tinnitus

There are generally two possible strategies to managing 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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