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

Most individuals describe tinnitus as a ringing or buzzing sound. But that description, though useful, is woefully inadequate. Tinnitus doesn’t always manifest in one of those two ways. Actually, a wide array of sounds can be heard due to this condition. And that’s important to note.

Because, as useful as that “buzzing and ringing” shorthand might be, such a restricted definition could make it challenging 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 caused by tinnitus. So having a more comprehensive notion of what tinnitus sounds like can be positive for everyone, including Barb.

A List of Sounds You Might Hear With Tinnitus

Tinnitus is, generally, the sound of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this is a real noise (this is known as objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s a noise created in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t truly exist and isn’t heard by others – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The type of tinnitus you’re dealing with will probably (but not always) have an effect on the sound you hear. And you could possibly hear a number of different noises:

  • Static: The sound of static is another type of tinnitus noise. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and others hear a low intensity static.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s a buzzing rather than a ringing. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of grinding metal? You might have heard this sound if you’ve ever been around a construction project. But for individuals who experience tinnitus, this sound is frequently heard.
  • High-pitch whistle: Think about that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? That specific high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by people with tinnitus. Not surprisingly, this one can be quite unpleasant.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most prevalent of the tinnitus noises. This is often a high pitched ring or whine. Sometimes, this sound is even referred to as a “tone”. When most people think of tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.
  • Roaring: This one is often characterized as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. It might sound calming at first, but the truth is that the noise is much more overwhelming than the gently lapping waves you might imagine.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor in your vacuum has a unique sound. Some people with tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Whooshing: Some people hear a whooshing sound triggered by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a kind of “objective tinnitus”. With this kind of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.

This list is not complete, but it definitely begins to give you an idea of just how many possible sounds a person with tinnitus may hear.

Change Over Time

It’s also totally feasible for one person to experience multiple tinnitus-related sounds. Last week, for instance, Brandon was hearing a ringing noise. Now, after going out to a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static sound. Tinnitus noises can and do change, sometimes regularly.

The reason for the change isn’t really well known (that’s because we still don’t really know what the root causes of tinnitus are).

Treating Tinnitus

There are typically two possible approaches to dealing with tinnitus symptoms: helping your brain learn to ignore the sound or masking the sound. Whatever your tinnitus sounds might be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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