McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

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

Most people refer to tinnitus as a ringing or buzzing sound. But tinnitus can’t always be categorized in this way. Tinnitus doesn’t always manifest in one of those two ways. Rather, this particular hearing ailment can make a veritable symphony of various sounds. And that’s a significant fact.

That “buzzing and ringing” classification can make it challenging for some people to identify if the sounds they’re hearing are actually tinnitus symptoms. If Barb from down the street hears only crashing or whooshing in her ears, it may not even occur to her that tinnitus is to blame. So everybody, including Barb, will benefit from having a better idea of what tinnitus can sound like.

A List of Sounds You May Hear With Tinnitus

Tinnitus is, generally, the sense of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this is a real noise (this is known as objective tinnitus). And at other times, it can be phantom sounds in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t actually exist and isn’t heard by others – that’s known as subjective tinnitus). The exact kind of sounds you hear will most likely depend on what type of tinnitus you suffer from. And there are a lot of possible sounds you might hear:

  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it begins to boil? That specific high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by those who have tinnitus. This one is undoubtedly rather unpleasant.
  • Screeching: Have you ever heard the sound of grinding metal? You may have heard this noise if you’ve ever been around a construction site. But for people who cope with tinnitus, this sound is often heard.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common noise, a ringing in the ears. This is often a high pitched ring or whine. The ringing is often called a “tone”. Ringing is probably what the majority of people think about when they consider tinnitus.
  • Buzzing: Sometimes, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
  • Roaring: The sound of roaring ocean waves is another common tinnitus sound. It might sound calming at first, but the reality is that the sound is much more overpowering than the gently lapping waves you may imagine.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum cleaner has a fairly specific sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some people with tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Static: In some circumstances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Some people hear a high intensity static and some hear a low intensity static.
  • Whooshing: Commonly experienced by individuals 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.

This list is not exhaustive, but it certainly starts to give you a picture of just how many potential sounds someone with tinnitus may hear.

Change Over Time

It’s also entirely feasible for one patient to hear numerous tinnitus-related sounds. Last week, as an example, Brandon was hearing a ringing noise. He met up with friends at a loud restaurant last night and now he’s hearing a loud static sound. It isn’t abnormal for the noise you hear from tinnitus to change like this – and it may change often.

The reason for the change isn’t always well understood (mostly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t always well known).

Canceling Out Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will typically take two possible approaches: masking the noise or helping your brain figure out how to dismiss the noise. And in either situation, that means helping you identify and familiarize yourself with the sounds of your tinnitus, whatever they may be.

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The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.