Tinnitus - Symptoms 

The different sounds of tinnitus 

Tinnitus affects people in different ways. Some are only mildly affected, in others it may be severe.

Some people with tinnitus are more sensitive to everyday sounds. For example, a person with tinnitus may find a radio or television painfully loud when it's at a normal volume for most people. This is known as hyperacusis.

Your tinnitus may be more noticeable at certain times or in certain situations. For example, mild tinnitus is usually more noticable when it's quiet because noisy environments can mask the sounds.

Tinnitus is also sometimes related to posture. You may hear sounds when lying or sitting down, or when you turn your head. After these types of movements, pressure changes in your nerves, muscles or blood vessels may trigger the noises associated with tinnitus.

Most tinnitus is perceived as a high-pitched sound, such as hissing, whistling or buzzing.

However, for some people, tinnitus can be a low-frequency noise, such as humming, murmuring, rumbling or deep droning. Others may experience musical hallucinations, where they repeatedly hear tunes or songs in their head.

These less common types of tinnitus are described in more detail below.

Less common types of tinnitus

Low-frequency noise

People who constantly hear low-frequency noise often think it's coming from an external source rather than from inside their head or ears.

Sources of external low-frequency noise include:

  • road and air traffic noise  
  • underground gas pipes
  • home appliances, such as fans and fridges
  • air-conditioning units

The wind, sea and thunder are natural sources of low-frequency noise.

Ask other people whether they can also hear the sound.

If you can only hear the noise when you're in one place, it may be coming from an external source, whereas if you can hear it all the time, you may have tinnitus. Stress or a recent illness may be related to your symptoms.

Musical hallucinations

Musical hallucinations are more common in people with long-term tinnitus and hearing loss. However, they're also sometimes experienced by people with normal hearing and those with an increased sensitivity to sound (hyperacusis).

As with other types of tinnitus, there's sometimes no apparent reason for musical hallucinations. However, stress can sometimes be a trigger.

Pulsatile tinnitus

Pulsatile tinnitus is where you hear rhythmical noises that often beat in time with your pulse. It's usually caused either by:

  • blood flow changes in the blood vessels near your ear
  • increased awareness of the blood flow near your ears

The blood flow through an artery can sometimes become restricted by a build-up of fatty deposits (plaques) on the inside wall of the artery. This is known as atherosclerosis and causes the artery to narrow. The narrowed artery prevents blood from flowing smoothly, resulting in it becoming 'noisy'.

If you have impaired hearing or a hearing condition such as a perforated eardrum, your awareness of sounds that come from inside your body, such as your blood flow, may be increased. This is because your hearing becomes more sensitive and internal noises aren't drowned out by external sounds.

Page last reviewed: 12/09/2013

Next review due: 12/09/2015

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The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

katecmb said on 18 November 2013

I've have a sound, but only in one ear. It's like dozens of mosquitoes, all at once. Is this Tinnitus I wonder? I have tooth problems on that side and also have Fibromyalgia.

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Chrisecoast said on 29 August 2013

For a number of years now I have been hearing the sound of distant pounding like machinery or like marching in the distance. When it first started II used to think it was air conditioning in supermarkets till I mentioned it to my husband and he couldn't hear it and I realised it must be my ears. I sometimes have it first thing when I wake up in bed, sometimes when I am going to sleep and awake with it sometimes in the middle of the night also. The thing that I find strange is that I always without fail have it when I have been travelling in the car, as soon as I get out of the car the noise is there, very loud and eventually goes off after about 5 - 10 minutes or so. Wondering if this is something anybody else can relate to.

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pulser said on 05 June 2013

Have had this condition for 16 years. g.p could not have cared less however diagnosed after mri scan as consultant thought it was a tumor.
I now have another medical complaint called Spinal Stenosis and since being treated with a drug called diclofenic[voltarol] I developed a throbbing at side of neck[carotid artery] just had an echo cardiogram of heart and also a doppler scan of carotid artery awaiting results.
been told by hospital that there is a heart murmur and this diclofenic drug has caused a problem.
Just wondered if anyone has found this drug a problem with tinnitus?.
Many years ago I was on Radio Scotland and they highlighted this problem with Scottish Health Minister who promised funding etc also the newspapers ran a story about me and the problems it caused. There was not another mention of it from that day to present.
There is little or no funding for this problem and I suggest we should all stand up and demand better understanding and ask for funding.
I HAVE EX HEARING and they say its worse for people like me.
Just had a tooth removed a couple of months ago and looks like it was not to blame for the noise and pain as I now have the same all over again! So think long and hard about your Tinnitus before any surgery or dental work you might Just Have Tinnitus.

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gtcowboy0 said on 31 October 2012

I am 56 and have suffered from tinnitus all of my life. I was also confirmed as having substantial hearing loss as an adolescent when my schoolwork started to suffer. As a young child I used to think I had a radio in my head or, more Dr Who related, I was a channel for aliens communication with Earth. Unfortunately, as an adult I came to realise that it was much more mundane. I had recurrent ear infections as a young child and said condition were exacerbated by this. I have two kinds of tinnitus, one is the more normal buzzing and whistling. This is quite often brought on by being exposed to fire alarms, sirens or loud percussive sounds (rock concerts etc.), but is frequently spontaneous. The other, which I find much more disturbing, is the low-pitched pulsing (like someone sawing at an out-of-tune cello). This, thankfully, is much more infrequent, but is much louder and intrusive. It seems in my case to be related to illness. I suffer badly when recuperating from a cold,sinusitis or similar illness. I am a life scientist by profession and have looked into this many times in the past. My conclusion is that inflammation, infection or blockage of the sinuses is a common cause of this distressing illness. Having my ears syringed and using some of the more common upper respiratory decongestants help a great deal in my case and could be a comparatively inobtrusive aid to many other sufferers. The use of bilateral hearing aids (in my case)has helped reduce my more normal tinnitus to a more bearable level. I hope some of you will find my experiences helpful and would appreciate any other experiences in this.

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maralase said on 25 September 2012

I was diagnosed in July with a occluded carotid artery on the right side of my neck. Before I was diagnosed and since I have had a pulsating noise in my left ear. The noise has definitely lessened since starting blood thinning tablets but my consultant cannot understand why the noise is in the opposite side of the blocked artery. After reading this website I am now wondering if I do in fact have Pulsatile Tinnitus. I will put this to my consultant and see what he thinks.

This is a great website!!!

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saflady said on 21 August 2012

On Tuesday 14th August 2012 I woke in the early hours of the morning with a rythmic whooshing sound in my neck, It was not evident again till I went to bed that night, it was rather annoying but I tried to blank it out but come Friday morning I could hear this whooshing even when I sat still it was also causing pressure in my forehead which made me feel dizzie at times.
Come Sunday morning the noise was so bad and with no sleep and a headache to kill, I decided to go to my GP Monday morning to be told I have Pulsatile Tinnitus, will be going for blood tests as no inner ear infection was evedent.
I was also told that in some causes this clears up as quick as it comes, but my GP told me if by Monday next week the noise is no better she will refer me to a ENT specialist.
If you have Tinnitus I feel for you as its driving me insane.

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funnybones3 said on 03 July 2012

David, I really hope you have had some joy in trying to resolve this. I too suffer from Tinnitus. At first it was very difficult but as I got a few tests done and learned that it was nothing serious I have managed to train myself to ignore it most of the time. I know it doesn't sound as loud as yours but I'm sure there is a solution for you as well. While suffering Tinnitus I am also having some hearing loss in one ear. I'm still getting tests done to see if they can find a cause/solution. Have people tried ways to deal with this?? I know obviously medical assessment first to rule out things but after that solutions for dealing with the noise?

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David01 said on 26 April 2012

26th April 2012. I am 48years old and I have lived with Tinnitus for 8 years. I have a hearing Aid in my elft ear. I also have the noise of a Jumbo Jet in my left ear the never easies off as well as random screech . Over the past two weeks I have gone almost deaf in the left ear as well, where I had 30% hearing .This loss has been confirmed with a hearing test at Audiology.
My right ear has about 70% I think? The noise in my left ear seems to have got much louder with a numbing feeling to the left of my eye but deep in past the jaw bone. When I try to clear or pop my left ear I get a noise like a thick elastic band ping only with a tin or metallic sound, even with every step I get this pinging sound.as well. I have been to the GP, Casualty and Audiology Clinic and all say my ear canals are healthy looking. I also have some dizziness and nausea. I have hit a Brick Wall and feel like giving life up as no one including professional people can help.In the words of my NHS Doctors sorry nothing more we can do!....
i also asked the gp for betahistine but he said it could make the tinnitus worse?? could anyone help please?

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Safiyah said on 26 March 2012

Is hearing your name being said/called from far away/whispered also a type of tinnitus? I get that and I've grown so used to it as my imagination that I need to be shaken when someone actually says it.

Also, my ears ring (only slightly) when there's no loud noise at all, nothing wrong, and I'm not stressed or anything. Mostly when there's no sound at all. But I never get it with loud music.

Sometimes I hear instruments as well, mostly songs I've heard before but sometimes not.

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gezatholme1942 said on 05 December 2011

I have a number of difficult neurological problems and I find the NHS choices websites to be extremely helpfull this one is no exception. Previously I only knew of one type of tinnitus this website has nailed down my symptoms perfectly. Thank goodness for the NHS. Those who run it down should go and live in a deprived country and then they would appreciate what they have got in this country.

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xSweetMiseryx said on 07 September 2011

I have this in my left ear (so everybody seems to think EXCEPT my GP...) and it seems to lessen or disappear when I press just below my jawline on my neck.. underneath the said ear...... SO annoying.... AND I have depression, so does that mean it's caused it? caused BY depression or just not helping it? .......

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