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 useful, is woefully insufficient. Tinnitus doesn’t always occur in one of those two ways. In fact, a large range of sounds can be heard due to this condition. And that’s important to note.

That “ringing and buzzing” classification can make it challenging for some people to decide if the sounds they’re hearing are genuinely tinnitus symptoms. If Barb from down the street hears only whooshing or crashing in her ears, it may not even occur to her that tinnitus is responsible. So having a more thorough idea of what tinnitus sounds like can be good for everyone, Barb included.

Tinnitus May Cause You to Hear These Sounds

Tinnitus is, in general, the sound of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this is an actual noise (this is called objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s a noise created in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t actually exist and isn’t heard by others – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The type of tinnitus you’re coping with will most likely (but not always) have an effect on the sound you hear. And there are a lot of possible sounds you may hear:

  • Electric motor: The electric motor in your vacuum has a unique sound. Some individuals with tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Static: In some cases, your tinnitus may sound like static. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static depends on the person and their distinct tinnitus.
  • Whooshing: Commonly experienced by people 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 kind of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of grinding metal? You might have heard this noise if you’ve ever been around a construction site. But it’s the type of sound that often manifests when someone is suffering from tinnitus.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing rather than a ringing. Many people even hear what sounds like cicada’s or a variety of other insects.
  • Roaring: The noise of roaring ocean waves is another typical tinnitus sound. It might sound calming at first, but the truth is that the noise is much more overwhelming than the gently rolling waves you may think.
  • 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 the majority of people consider tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • High-pitch whistle: Image the sound of a boiling tea kettle. That specific high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by people with tinnitus. Needless to say, this one can be quite annoying.

Someone who is suffering from tinnitus may hear many possible noises and this list isn’t exhaustive.

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one noise. Last week, for instance, Brandon was hearing a ringing sound. He got together with friends at a noisy restaurant last night and is now hearing a loud static noise. Tinnitus sounds can and do change, sometimes frequently.

It’s not well understood why this happens (mostly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t always well understood).

Canceling Out Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will usually take two possible approaches: helping your brain learn to ignore the sound or masking the sound. And in either case, that means helping you identify and familiarize yourself with the sounds of your tinnitus, whatever they might be.

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