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

A buzzing and ringing sound is what the majority of individuals hear when they suffer from tinnitus. But that classification, though useful, is woefully insufficient. Those two sounds are not the only ways tinnitus occurs. In fact, a huge range of sounds can be heard due to this condition. And that’s a substantial fact.

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. 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 everybody, including Barb, will benefit from having a stronger idea of what tinnitus can sound like.

A List of Noises You May Hear With Tinnitus

Broadly speaking, tinnitus is the sense of noise in the ears. In some cases, this noise actually exists (this is called objective tinnitus). And in other situations, it can be phantom noises 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 variety of tinnitus you’re dealing with will most likely (but not always) have an impact on the noise you hear. And you could possibly hear a lot of different noises:

  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of grinding metal? You may have heard this noise if you’ve ever been around a construction project. But for individuals who cope with tinnitus, this sound is frequently heard.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? That specific high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by people with tinnitus. This one is undoubtedly rather distressing.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most prevalent of the tinnitus noises. Frequently, this is a high pitched whine or ring. Sometimes, this sound is even described as a “tone”. Ringing is probably what the majority of people think about when they consider tinnitus.
  • Roaring: This one is often described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. At first, this sound may not be very unpleasant, but it can quickly become overpowering.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s a buzzing not a ringing. Many people even hear what sounds like cicada’s or a variety of other insects.
  • 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.
  • Static: In some instances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and others hear a low intensity static.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by individuals with objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing noise in the ears is often a result of circulation through blood vessels around the ear. You’re basically hearing the sound of your own heart pumping blood.

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

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one noise. Brandon, for instance, spent most of last week hearing a ringing noise. Now, after going out to a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static noise. Tinnitus sounds can and do change, sometimes regularly.

The explanation 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

There are usually two possible strategies to treating tinnitus symptoms: helping your brain understand how to dismiss the sound or masking the sound. And in either situation, that means helping you identify and get familiar with the sounds of your tinnitus, whatever they might be.

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