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Enhanced Hearing Center - Springfield, MO

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

Most individuals describe tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But tinnitus can’t always be classified in this way. Tinnitus doesn’t always show up in one of those two ways. In fact, a large range of sounds can be heard due to this condition. And that’s important to note.

That “buzzing and ringing” description can make it difficult for some people to determine if the sounds they’re hearing are really 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.

Tinnitus Might Cause You to Hear These Sounds

Generally speaking, tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ears. Sometimes, this is a real noise (this is known as objective tinnitus). And at other times, 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 known as subjective tinnitus). The type of tinnitus you’re dealing with will most likely (but not always) have an impact on the noise you hear. And there are a lot of conceivable sounds you may hear:

  • Static: In some instances, your tinnitus might sound like static. Whether that’s high energy or low energy static varies from person to person.
  • Roaring: The noise of roaring ocean waves is another common tinnitus sound. It might sound calming at first, but the reality is that the noise is much more overwhelming than the gently rolling waves you may imagine.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing noise. This buzzing sometimes even sounds like an insect or cicada.
  • Whooshing: Some individuals hear a whooshing sound triggered by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a kind of “objective tinnitus”. You’re essentially hearing the sound of your own heart pumping blood.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a very distinct sound, in part because of its electric motor. Some people with tinnitus hear a similar sound when their tinnitus flares up.
  • High-pitch whistle: You know that sound your tea kettle makes when it starts boiling? That exact high pitched squealing is sometimes heard by those who have tinnitus. Not surprisingly, this one can be quite unpleasant.
  • 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 garage. But for individuals who cope with tinnitus, this sound is frequently heard.
  • Ringing: We’ll start with the most common sound, a ringing in the ears. Usually, this is a high pitched whine or ring. The ringing is frequently called a “tone”. When the majority of individuals think of tinnitus, most of them think of this ringing.

A person who has tinnitus might hear many possible noises and this list is hardly complete.

Over Time Tinnitus Sounds Can Change

It’s also entirely feasible for one person to experience multiple tinnitus-related noises. Last week, as an example, Brandon was hearing a ringing sound. Now, after eating at a loud restaurant with friends, he hears a static sound. It isn’t unusual for the sound you hear from tinnitus to change in this way – and it might change frequently.

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

Treating Tinnitus

Tinnitus treatments will typically take two possible strategies: masking the noise or helping your brain determine how to dismiss the noise. 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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