Most people refer to tinnitus as a ringing or buzzing sound. But that description, though useful, is dismally insufficient. Those two sounds are not the only ways tinnitus manifests. Instead, this specific hearing condition can make a veritable symphony of different noises. And that’s a substantial fact.
That “buzzing and ringing” description can make it challenging for some people to decide if the sounds they’re hearing are actually 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 everyone, including Barb, will benefit from having a stronger idea of what tinnitus can sound like.
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 called objective tinnitus). And in other situations, it can be phantom noises in your ears (which means that the noises can’t be heard by others and don’t really exist – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The type of tinnitus you’re coping with will probably (but not always) have an impact on the sound you hear. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you could hear:
- High-pitch whistle: Think about that sound your tea kettle makes when it begins to boil? That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by those who have tinnitus. Not surprisingly, this one can be quite annoying.
- Screeching: You know that sound of grinding metal? You might have heard this noise if you’ve ever been near a construction site. But it’s the kind of sound that often comes up when a person is experiencing tinnitus.
- Electric motor: The electric motor inside of your vacuum has a distinct sound. Tinnitus flare-up’s, for some individuals, manifest this exact sound.
- Whooshing: Commonly experienced by people with objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing noise in the ears is often caused by circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this kind of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
- Ringing: A ringing in the ears is the most prevalent of the tinnitus sounds. Usually, this is a high pitched whine or ring. In some cases, this sound is even referred to as a “tone”. Ringing is probably what the majority of people think about when they contemplate tinnitus.
- Roaring: This one is usually 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 overpowering than the gently lapping waves you may think.
- Static: In some instances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static varies from person to person.
- Buzzing: In some cases, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
This list is not exhaustive, but it definitely starts to give you a picture 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. It isn’t abnormal for the sound you hear from tinnitus to change in this way – and it may change often.
The explanation for the change isn’t really well understood (that’s because we still don’t really understand what the underlying causes of tinnitus are).
There are generally two possible strategies to treating tinnitus symptoms: helping your brain understand how to dismiss the sound or masking the sound. Whatever your tinnitus sounds might be, the first step is to identify and familiarize yourself with them.