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What Does Tinnitus Sound Like?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in your ears or head that originates from within your body, not the external environment. It can be quite a bewildering experience, and the truth is, there’s no single answer as to what exactly tinnitus sounds like.

Young Asian girl frustrated and disturbed by phantom sounds from tinnitus

This article takes us closer to the right answer by looking into what research has to say about tinnitus sounds and symptoms. We will also find what could be the underlying cause of this perceived sound only the tinnitus sufferers can hear.

What Tinnitus Can Sound Like

Tinnitus sounds can manifest in a variety of ways. Surveys estimate that 1-2 in 10 adults have it, with no clear causes. While this may be the case, several studies linked this condition to common tinnitus risk factors, including:

  • Age-related hearing loss

  • Ear infection

  • Ear wax buildup

  • Inner ear disorder (Meniere’s disease)

  • Tumor-related disorders

  • Loud noise exposure

  • Medication side effects

  • High blood pressure

  • Cancer drugs and antidepressant use

In Canada, as many as 360,000 people suffer from tinnitus, while 150,000 have it to some degree, affecting their quality of life and leading to other health-related issues like insomnia, anxiety, and cognitive and psychological distress.

In subjective tinnitus, where only the patient can perceive the sounds, understanding the exact nature of tinnitus can be challenging. Meanwhile, objective tinnitus allows doctors to hear phantom sounds with a stethoscope.

Below are some common tinnitus sound descriptions.

Ringing in the Ears

Ringing sound in the ears is perhaps the most well-known sound associated with tinnitus, like a high-pitched or low-pitched ringing in one or both ears. Some people describe it as the ringing left behind after a loud concert. Others perceive it as the constant sound of a mosquito’s whine or a distant church bell tolling.

Buzzing or Clicking

This type of tinnitus can sound like a persistent buzzing from an insect, a malfunctioning appliance, or even the clicking of crickets. It can be a constant drone or a series of clicks that come and go.

Hissing or Roaring

Similar to escaping air or rushing waterfall, tinnitus can sometimes present itself as a hissing or roaring sound. This can be particularly bothersome because it can mask external sounds and make it difficult to hear conversations

Whooshing or Pulsating

Some people experience tinnitus as a whooshing sound like wind rushing through trees. This can be unsettling, especially if it fluctuates in intensity. In rare cases, tinnitus can be pulsating (pulsatile tinnitus), following the rhythm of your heartbeat. This type of tinnitus can be a cause for concern and should be evaluated by a medical professional.

Musical Tinnitus

In a less common occurrence, tinnitus can manifest as musical tones or melodies. While it might sound intriguing at first, this type of tinnitus can be just as disruptive as other forms.

These are just a few examples, and the sounds of tinnitus can be much more diverse. The specific sounds a person experiences can vary greatly, and they can even change over time. No two people who develop tinnitus perceive it exactly the same way, although some show similar characteristics.

Tinnitus Sound Variations

Here is a breakdown of some key characteristics that influence the overall experience of developing tinnitus symptoms.


The volume of tinnitus can range dramatically. Some individuals describe it as barely noticeable, easily masked by everyday sounds. Conversely, others experience tinnitus as very loud which significantly impacts their ability to hear and concentrate.


The pitch of tinnitus can be high-pitched (like a mosquito’s whine), low-pitched (like a distant rumble), and in interesting cases, a combination of both, creating a complex and often jarring soundscape.


The frequency with which tinnitus occurs can be just as diverse as its volume and pitch. It can be constant, a relentless drone that never seems to fade. On the other hand, tinnitus can be intermittent, appearing in pulsating bursts or coming and going in waves throughout the day.

Constant vs Transient

Tinnitus can be categorized based on its duration. Constant tinnitus is present all the time, a persistent phantom sound that can be incredibly frustrating. In contrast, transient tinnitus comes and goes, offering periods of relief interspersed with episodes.

How Tinnitus Affects Quality of Life

Tinnitus can range from subtle to a chronic condition that significantly impacts a person’s daily life. While temporary tinnitus may not be disruptive for everyone, chronic tinnitus can present a series of challenges.

Chronic tinnitus can present a cascade of negative effects, including:

  • Stress and Anxiety: The constant presence of tinnitus sounds can be a significant source of stress and anxiety. The inability to escape the sound can lead to feelings of helplessness and frustration.

  • Sleep Disruption: Tinnitus sounds can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. This sleep deprivation can further worsen existing stress and anxiety, creating a vicious cycle.

  • Hearing Difficulties: In some cases, tinnitus can coexist with hearing loss, making it even harder to focus on conversations and distinguish sounds. This can lead to social isolation and feelings of loneliness.

  • Concentration Problems: It can be difficult to concentrate and focus on tasks with tinnitus. This can have a negative impact on work, school, and daily activities.

  • Mental Health Concerns: Chronic tinnitus has been linked to an increased risk of depression and other mental health conditions. The constant internal noise, combined with the challenges listed above, can significantly impact a person’s mood and well-being.

Tinnitus sound perception can worsen over time. It is more likely to be bothersome for people who already experience hearing loss, particularly in one ear.

If you suspect excessive earwax buildup might be affecting your hearing or causing discomfort, it’s best to consult an audiologist for safe and effective ear cleaning in Toronto.

What May Cause the Sound to Change?

Certain activities, stress, or loud noises can sometimes trigger these changes and worsen tinnitus. Unfortunately, the exact reasons why tinnitus changes are not fully understood. However, researchers are exploring potential links to changes in blood flow, ear muscle activity, and even brain chemistry.

If you’re experiencing tinnitus, it’s important to visit a tinnitus clinic in Toronto to determine the underlying cause and explore treatment options.

Treating Tinnitus Sounds

Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus itself. However, there are a number of treatment options available to help manage the perception and negative impact of tinnitus sounds. Work with audiologist Toronto experts to properly perform the following approaches.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)

This non-invasive therapy combines sound therapy with counseling. The sound therapy uses external sounds, like white noise or nature sounds, to mask the tinnitus and provide relief. Over time, TRT aims to help the brain reclassify tinnitus sounds as less bothersome or even fade into the background.

Sound Therapy

Even without the counseling component of TRT, sound therapy can be helpful on its own. Using devices that produce white noise, nature sounds, or music can offer masking relief, especially in quiet environments. Some hearing aids also have built-in sound generators for this purpose.

Hearing Aids

In cases where tinnitus co-occurs with hearing loss, hearing aids can be a valuable tool. By amplifying external noises, hearing aids can help make tinnitus less noticeable. Additionally, some advanced hearing aids offer specific features designed to provide tinnitus relief through sound therapy options.


A qualified therapist can help individuals develop coping mechanisms for dealing with the emotional and psychological aspects of tinnitus. This may include techniques for managing stress and anxiety, which can often worsen tinnitus perception.

Final Thoughts

Tinnitus sound therapies and treatment approaches will vary depending on the individual’s specific situation. It’s important to consult with a healthcare professional who can take a detailed medical history, assess the severity and characteristics of tinnitus, and recommend a personalized treatment plan. This plan may involve one or a combination of the approaches mentioned above.