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

Most people refer to tinnitus as a ringing or buzzing sound. But that classification, though helpful, is dismally insufficient. Tinnitus doesn’t always occur in one of those two ways. Rather, this particular hearing disorder can make a veritable symphony of various noises. And that’s important to note.

Because, as useful as that “ringing and buzzing” shorthand may be, such a limited description could make it challenging for some individuals to identify their 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 having a more thorough idea of what tinnitus sounds like can be good for everyone, including Barb.

Tinnitus May Cause You to Hear These Noises

Tinnitus is, in general, the sound of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this noise actually exists (this is known as objective tinnitus). And sometimes it’s an artifact of your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t really exist and isn’t heard by others – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The specific kind of sounds you hear will likely depend on what form of tinnitus you have. And there are a lot of possible sounds you might hear:

  • Static: In some instances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static depends on the person and their distinct tinnitus.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of metal grinding? Maybe you hear it when your neighbors are working on a building project in their back yard. But for individuals who experience tinnitus, this sound is often heard.
  • Roaring: This one is usually described as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. Initially, this sound may not be very unpleasant, but it can quickly become overwhelming.
  • Buzzing: In some cases, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing sound. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? Sometimes, tinnitus can sound like that specific high-pitched squeal. Not surprisingly, this one can be quite unpleasant.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common noise, a ringing in the ears. Frequently, 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.
  • Whooshing: Frequently experienced by people with objective tinnitus, a rhythmic whooshing sound in the ears is often a result of circulation through blood vessels around the ear. With this form of tinnitus, you’re essentially hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a rather distinct sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some people who have tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.

A person who is suffering from tinnitus may hear lots of potential noises and this list is hardly exhaustive.

Change Over Time

Someone with tinnitus can also hear more than one noise. Brandon, as an example, spent the majority of last week hearing a ringing sound. Now, after eating at a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static sound. It isn’t abnormal for the sound you hear from tinnitus to change in this way – and it may change often.

The reason for the change isn’t always well understood (that’s because we still don’t really understand what the underlying causes of tinnitus are).

Canceling Out Tinnitus

There are generally two possible approaches to managing 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 may be.

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