Illini Hearing - Champaign and Mahomet, IL

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

Most individuals refer to tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But that description, though useful, is woefully insufficient. Those two noises are not the only ways tinnitus manifests. Actually, a huge range of sounds can be heard due to this condition. And that’s important to note.

That “ringing and buzzing” description can make it hard for some people to decide if the sounds they’re hearing are actually tinnitus symptoms. It might not even occur to your friend Barb that the whooshing and crashing sounds in her ears are caused by tinnitus. So everybody, including Barb, will profit from having a stronger concept of what tinnitus can sound like.

A List of Sounds You Might Hear With Tinnitus

Tinnitus is, in general, the sound of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this noise really exists (this is known as objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s a noise created 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 exact kind of sounds you hear will likely depend on what form of tinnitus you have. And you could possibly hear a lot of different noises:

  • 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 manifests when a person is suffering from tinnitus.
  • Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most prevalent of the tinnitus sounds. Frequently, this is a high pitched whine or ring. The ringing is often called a “tone”. When the majority of people think of 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 those who have tinnitus. This one is obviously rather unpleasant.
  • Electric motor: The electric motor inside of your vacuum has a unique sound. Tinnitus flare-up’s, for some people, manifest this particular sound.
  • Static: The sound of static is another type of tinnitus noise. Some individuals hear a high intensity static and some hear a low intensity static.
  • Whooshing: Some individuals hear a whooshing noise triggered by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a kind of “objective tinnitus”. With this type of tinnitus, you’re basically hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing sound. This buzzing can even sound like an insect or cicada.
  • Roaring: This one is usually described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. Initially, this sound may not be all that unpleasant, but it can quickly become overwhelming.

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

Change Over Time

Someone with tinnitus can also experience more than one sound. Brandon, for instance, spent the majority of last week hearing a ringing noise. He met up with friends at a noisy restaurant last night and now he’s hearing a loud static noise. Tinnitus sounds can and do change, sometimes frequently.

It’s not well known why this happens (that’s because we still don’t really understand what the root causes of tinnitus are).

Treating Tinnitus

There are generally two possible strategies to managing tinnitus symptoms: 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 might be.

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