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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 helpful, is woefully inadequate. Tinnitus doesn’t always show up in one of those two ways. Instead, this specific hearing condition can make a veritable symphony of different noises. And that’s a significant fact.

Because, as useful as that “buzzing and ringing” shorthand may be, such a limited classification could make it challenging for some individuals to identify their tinnitus symptoms. It might not even occur to your friend Barb that the crashing and whooshing sounds in her ears are caused by tinnitus. So everybody, including Barb, will benefit from having a better concept of what tinnitus can sound like.

A List of Sounds You May Hear With Tinnitus

Generally speaking, tinnitus is the sense of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this is an actual noise (this is called objective tinnitus). And in other situations, it can be phantom noises in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t actually exist and can’t be 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 suffer from. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you could hear:

  • Whooshing: Some people hear a whooshing noise triggered by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a form of “objective tinnitus”. With this type of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of metal grinding? 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.
  • High-pitch whistle: Image the sound of a boiling tea kettle. That specific high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by those who have tinnitus. Needless to say, this one can be quite unpleasant.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common sound, a ringing in the ears. Frequently, this is a high pitched whine or ring. The ringing is frequently called a “tone”. Ringing is probably what the majority of people think about when they contemplate tinnitus.
  • Roaring: This one is usually described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. At first, this sound might not be very unpleasant, but it can quickly become overpowering.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s a buzzing rather than a ringing. Many individuals even hear what sounds like cicada’s or a variety of other insects.
  • Static: The sound of static is another type of tinnitus noise. Some people hear a high intensity static and others hear a low intensity static.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a rather specific sound, in part because of its electric motor. Some people with tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.

Someone who has tinnitus could hear lots of potential noises and this list is hardly complete.

Change Over Time

It’s also entirely feasible for one individual to experience numerous tinnitus-related noises. Last week, for example, Brandon was hearing a ringing noise. He met up with friends at a noisy restaurant last night and is now hearing a loud static sound. 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 known).

Treating Tinnitus

There are typically two possible strategies to treating tinnitus symptoms: masking the noise or helping your brain figure out how to dismiss the noise. Whatever your tinnitus sounds might be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.

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