Florida Hearing Matters - Fort Lauderdale, FL

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

Most individuals describe tinnitus as a buzzing or ringing sound. But that classification, though useful, is dismally inadequate. Those two sounds are not the only ways tinnitus manifests. Instead, this particular hearing disorder can make a veritable symphony of different sounds. And that’s important to note.

Because, as useful as that “buzzing and ringing” shorthand may be, such a limited description could make it challenging for some individuals to identify their tinnitus symptoms. If Barb from down the street hears only whooshing or crashing in her ears, it might not even occur to her that tinnitus is responsible. 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, in general, the sound of noises in your ears. Sometimes, this noise really exists (this is known as objective tinnitus). And in other situations, it can be phantom sounds in your ears (that is, the sound doesn’t truly exist and can’t be heard by others – that’s called subjective tinnitus). The form of tinnitus you’re coping with will most likely (but not always) have an effect on the sound you hear. And you could potentially hear a number of different sounds:

  • Ringing: We’ll begin 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 described as a “tone”. Ringing is probably what the majority of people think about when they contemplate tinnitus.
  • Whooshing: Some individuals hear a whooshing sound triggered by blood circulation in and around the ears which is a kind of “objective tinnitus”. With this form of tinnitus, you’re basically hearing your own heartbeat.
  • Static: The sound of static is another type of tinnitus noise. Some people hear a high intensity static and some hear a low intensity static.
  • High-pitch whistle: Picture the sound of a boiling tea kettle. Occasionally, tinnitus can sound like that particular high-pitched squeal. This one is undoubtedly quite unpleasant.
  • Screeching: You know that sound of metal grinding? Maybe you hear it when someone who lives near you is working on a construction project in their garage. But it’s the kind of sound that often comes up when someone is experiencing tinnitus.
  • Roaring: This one is often characterized as “roaring waves”, or even simply “the ocean”. At first, this sound may not be very unpleasant, but it can quickly become overwhelming.
  • Electric motor: Your vacuum has a very distinct sound, mostly due to its electric motor. Some people who have tinnitus hear a similar noise when their tinnitus flares up.
  • Buzzing: At times, it’s not ringing you hear, but a buzzing sound. Many people even hear what sounds like cicada’s or a variety of other insects.

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

Change Over Time

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

It’s not well understood why this happens (mostly because the causes of tinnitus aren’t always well known).

Canceling Out Tinnitus

There are typically two potential approaches to managing tinnitus symptoms: masking the noise or helping your brain figure out how to ignore the noise. And in either case, that means helping you identify and get familiar with the sounds of your tinnitus, whatever they may be.

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