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

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

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

Tinnitus Might Cause You to Hear These Noises

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the sense of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this noise really exists (this is known as objective tinnitus). And in other situations, it can be phantom sounds in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t really exist and isn’t heard by others – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The specific type of sounds you hear will most likely depend on what form of tinnitus you have. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you could hear:

  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by people who have objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing noise in the ears is often caused by circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this form of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Static: In some instances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static varies from person to person.
  • Roaring: The noise of roaring ocean waves is another prevalent tinnitus sound. It might sound calming at first, but the truth is that the noise is much more overpowering than the gently lapping waves you might think.
  • High-pitch whistle: Think about that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by those who have tinnitus. Needless to say, this one can be quite annoying.
  • Ringing: We’ll begin with the most common noise, a ringing in the ears. Frequently, 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.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum cleaner has a rather specific sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some individuals with tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. This buzzing can even sound like an insect or cicada.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of grinding metal? Maybe you hear it when your neighbors are working on a construction project in their back yard. But it’s the kind of sound that often comes up when someone is experiencing tinnitus.

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

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

It’s also totally possible for one individual to experience numerous tinnitus-related noises. Last week, for example, Brandon was hearing a ringing sound. Now, after eating at a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static noise. Tinnitus noises can and do change, sometimes regularly.

The explanation for the change isn’t always well understood (mainly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t always well understood).

Treating Tinnitus

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

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