Types of Tinnitus

If you think you have tinnitus, it is important to know what the type is. There are a few different kinds relating to the underlying cause, which affects how it can be treated. Read on to see our full guide on the different types of tinnitus.

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What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when there is no external sound source. The most common sounds heard include ringing, buzzing or hissing. It can occur in one ear, two ears, or fluctuates between the two and it is usually not something that someone else can hear. It can be either temporary or permanent. 

 

There are no known cures for tinnitus, but in some cases it may go away completely if it is just a side effect of another health condition. So if you treat and cure the other health issue, the tinnitus may also stop. Otherwise, the only treatments for tinnitus are meant to help you manage the symptoms so it doesn’t affect you as much.

Different Tinnitus Sounds

Not everyone who has tinnitus hears the same kind of sound. Here are some of the more common examples of the types of tinnitus sounds you may hear:


  • Ringing (high or low pitch)

  • Hissing

  • Buzzing

  • Whistling

  • Roaring

  • Humming

  • Pulsing

Subjective Tinnitus

Subjective tinnitus is when there is a perception of sound but there is neither an external nor internal sound source. It is the most common type of tinnitus with at least 95% of those who report they have tinnitus experiencing this form. Although we know that tinnitus is related to a disruption in the auditory pathway the exact nature is unknown.

 

Subjective tinnitus is associated with the following:

 

The most common risk factors that are associated with subjective tinnitus relate to our ears including:

  • Hearing loss 
  • Meniere's disease 
  • Ear infections 
  • Large wax build-up

Other associated issues include:

  • Neurological etiologies, including multiple sclerosis and vestibular schwannoma 
  • Head trauma 
  • Drugs which affect the ears (ototoxic) 
  • Psychological factors such as anxiety
Musical Tinnitus (aka Musical Hallucinations)
Musical tinnitus is also called musical hallucinations. Instead of having a simple random noise that you hear in your ears, you instead hear something more dynamic, like music. The sounds change in tones and layers until it sounds like composed music or singing. It is rare, but more common in people who have had both tinnitus and hearing loss for a long time.

Objective Tinnitus (also known as 'somatic' tinnitus)

Unlike subjective tinnitus, objective tinnitus means that the sounds you hear in your ear are being produced by your body. This type of tinnitus can be broken down further into:

Pulsatile Tinnitus
Pulsatile tinnitus is a rare variation of tinnitus where the sound you hear is rhythmic or pulsing, usually to the rhythm of one’s heartbeat. This type of tinnitus is associated with the vascular system. The sounds you hear are usually more like rushing, whooshing, thumping or throbbing.
Muscular Tinnitus
Muscular tinnitus is associated with contractions of various muscles in one’s head or neck that can be heard. These can include the muscles of the jaw, which may be due to dental issues. This is also associated with contractions of a tiny muscle within the middle ear, the tensor tympani, which can sound like a ‘clicking’ sound. 
Spontaneous Tinnitus
Spontaneous tinnitus has been linked to hair cells in the inner ear (the outer hair cells) firing  without outside input. These are also known as spontaneous otoacoustic emissions.

Tinnitus is a hearing condition that can come in several different forms. There are different sounds you may hear, but also different types, variation and subtypes for how you hear them. It can change in pitch and volume, but also in rhythm or even in a melody. 

 

The nature of the sound you hear with tinnitus can often be a good indication for the type of tinnitus you have. This in turn can help determine the underlying cause and best treatment methods for your tinnitus.

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