What Is Pulsatile Tinnitus?
Pulsatile tinnitus is a rhythmic pulsing noise in one or both ears and occurs in the absence of external sound. The pulsing noise tends to be synched with the heartbeat and is often described as a “whoosing” sound heard when the heart beats. In some patients, pulsatile tinnitus is nothing more than an annoyance, but in others it can be debilitating making it difficult to concentrate or sleep. With pulsatile tinnitus, the sound actually comes from within your own body, likely has a definable source, and can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
What Are The Symptoms Of Pulsatile Tinnitus?
The primary symptom associated with pulsatile tinnitus is that you regularly hear a sound with a steady beat that syncs up with your pulse. Sometimes you hear it in one ear and sometimes in two, and the sound can be loud and unbearable. The beat or sound may be constant or it may come and go, but the overriding symptom is that pulsing noise.
The other symptoms that can be present with pulsatile tinnitus stem from another medical condition called idiopathic intracranial hypertension which is high pressure in the fluid around your brain. If you notice any of these symptoms you should see a doctor right away. Here are some other symptoms you might notice:
- Vision Problems
- Hearing Loss
What Causes Pulsatile Tinnitus?
Unlike with regular tinnitus, doctors can often pinpoint an underlying health problem behind pulsatile tinnitus. Here are some of the most common causes.
Conductive Hearing Loss
This is one of the most common causes of pulsatile tinnitus and can be caused by a ruptured eardrum or other hearing loss event. Even compacted ear wax or an ear infection can lead to pulsatile tinnitus. You become more aware of internal sounds when you struggle to hear external ones.
Blood Vessel Disorders or Irregular Blood Vessels
Another common cause of pulsatile tinnitus is when your blood vessels or arteries, especially those around the ears, are not working properly. When the blood flow in these arteries changes, pulsatile tinnitus is a common side effect.
How Is Pulsatile Tinnitus Diagnosed?
If you think you have pulsatile tinnitus, you should undergo a thorough medical evaluation including hearing tests and having the doctor examine your ears. Your doctor will also examine your eyes and look at your jaw to check for increased pressure in the brain. They will also check the blood vessels in your head, neck, and ear canal. Your medical team may also want to take images or do other tests to diagnosis pulsatile tinnitus including:
- Blood Tests
- CT Scan
- Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER)
For some patients, the cause of pulsatile tinnitus may remain unknown, but it is important to rule out all of the serious possibilities.
Can Pulsatile Tinnitus Cause Complications?
While pulsatile tinnitus can be the sign of a more serious underlying condition, it also comes with its own complications. The first complication is a lack of sleep because sleeplessness can cause numerous other issues. On top of the lack of sleep, pulsatile tinnitus can be annoying enough to cause a lack of concentration in everyday life, hearing loss, and difficulty not thinking about the muffled thumping sound that can seem ever-present. While the direct complications of pulsatile tinnitus may not be life-threatening, they can really upset your daily life.
How Can I Stop The Pulsing Sound In My Ear?
To stop the pulsing sound, you will have to get to the root of the issue. You can find a discussion at the end of this article about what to do if there is no underlying cause to the tinnitus. The three most common ways to stop the pulsing sound are:
- Medication. Sometimes, a simple prescription can treat the underlying cause of pulsatile tinnitus. The most common causes that can be cured with medicine include hyperthyroidism, anemia, elevated intracranial hypertension, or high blood pressure.
- Surgery. Minimally invasive surgery will sometimes cure your pulsatile tinnitus. This often includes work on your arteries or blood vessels and often includes some type of stenting possibly for an aneurysm.
- Self-Management Techniques. These will be discussed more thoroughly later, but most self-management techniques do not cure the tinnitus; they just make it easier to live with it.
What Does Pulsatile Tinnitus Sound Like?
Pulsatile tinnitus has been described in numerous ways including a “whooshing” sound, a muffled thumping sound, and a heartbeat sound. The rhythmic throbbing in a person’s ears will often take on the same “beat” as your heartbeat. Even your doctor may be able to hear it with a stethoscope. The sound is actually an amplified sound of blood circulating through your arteries.
Could Heartbeat In Ear Lead To Hearing Loss?
Pulsatile tinnitus does not lead to hearing loss, but it can, and often does, occur together. In addition, head trauma, surgery, some tumors, and middle ear conductive hearing loss can all cause pulsatile tinnitus. When there is a consistent pulsing or “heartbeat” in your ear, you will experience some hearing loss due to the extra internal noise, and in that way, it does cause hearing loss.
Treating Underlying Health Conditions For Pulsatile Tinnitus
One of the most important and concerning issues of pulsatile tinnitus is that there can be dangerous underlying conditions causing it. Some of those conditions include:
- Idiopathic intracranial hypertension.
- High blood pressure.
- Jugular sinus diverticulum.
- Dural arteriovenous shunts.
- Arterial stenosis.
It is important to speak with your doctor at the earliest onset signs of pulsatile tinnitus so that you can catch these underlying issues early if they are present. Some of the things that cause this type of tinnitus are life-threatening and need immediate medical attention while others are simple annoyances.
Techniques For Managing Pulsatile Tinnitus Symptoms
If there are no underlying health conditions causing your pulsatile tinnitus, your doctor may give you some self-management techniques to help alleviate the symptoms. Some potential relief may be found through the following techniques:
- White Noise. Listening to white noise while you fall asleep.
- Tinnitus Retraining. You wear a device that plays music in a tone that helps you tune out the pulsing sound.
- Relaxation Techniques. Common relaxation techniques may help you forget about the annoyance of the tinnitus.
- Wearable Sound Generators. They look like hearing aids, but they emit a low-level background noise to combat the pulsatile tinnitus.