Anatomy of the ear

Pulsatile Tinnitus – symptoms, causes, treatments

Pulsatile Tinnitus is unlike regular Tinnitus, with normal Tinnitus being the perception of sound when no external sound is actually present. Pulsatile Tinnitus, however, presents as a rushing or whooshing sound which is actually your ear picking up the noises of the blood moving around your body. This is where the name “pulsatile” comes from, as it is literally your pulse you can hear.

Pulsatile Tinnitus anxiety is common for those who experience Pulsatile Tinnitus, but fortunately, it is usually treatable. Here’s everything you need to know about Pulsatile Tinnitus; what causes it, its symptoms, how it’s diagnosed, and its treatments.

What is Pulsatile Tinnitus?

Less common than regular Tinnitus which often sounds like a ringing or clicking in your ears, pulsatile Tinnitus presents as a whooshing or pulsing sound. You can experience it in both ears, or you may have pulsatile Tinnitus in one ear only. Pulsatile Tinnitus is the sound of your own blood rushing through your body which has been amplified in and around your ears.

A pulsing sound experienced in the ear

What causes it?

Pulsatile Tinnitus causes can be varied, although the root cause is anything that induces “turbulent blood flow” meaning your rushing blood and pulse are now audible to you. 

Common Pulsatile Tinnitus causes include:

  • High Blood Pressure: With high blood pressure comes more force exerted on the walls of your veins and arteries. This extra pressure can be a pulsatile Tinnitus cause as the increased pressure is picked up when these veins and blood vessels are near your ear. Things like consuming excessive alcohol, smoking and caffeine can all exacerbate Pulsatile Tinnitus.
  • Tumors: Tumors located in the head and neck can be Pulsatile Tinnitus causes. Pressing on blood vessels near to your ears, any growth in the region of your head can increase pressure and amplify the sound of your blood. The orientation of a head or neck tumor too will often mean you experience Pulsatile Tinnitus in one ear only on the side where the growth is located. 
  • Irregular Blood vessels: Veins or blood vessels that are irregularly shaped or kinked can disrupt blood flow. This causes your blood to flow unevenly, changing the pressure and noise of your blood resulting in a pulsing or whooshing sound. It isn’t just small blood vessels that cause Pulsatile Tinnitus but also issues with your carotid artery or jugular vein.
  • Atherosclerosis: Pulsatile Tinnitus causes are often linked to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the blood vessels, veins, and arteries. Blood vessels which have been hardened by fatty build-ups are no longer as flexible as they once were which means the blood needs to move through them with extra pressure. If Atherosclerosis is the cause you are less likely to experience pulsatile Tinnitus in one ear only, but should hear the pulsing sound in both ears.
  • Severe Anemia: Overactive thyroids or severe anemia can be Pulsatile Tinnitus causes as they increase the rate of blood flow around the body.

What does Pulsatile Tinnitus sound like?

Pulsatile Tinnitus often sounds rhythmic with a pulsing, thumping, or whooshing sound. This pulsing will often be in time with your heartbeat, even making it possible for you to take your own pulse by listening to the beat in your ears. You may experience pulsatile Tinnitus in one ear only or in both ears and the sound can be constant or can come and go. You might be more inclined to hear pulsatile Tinnitus lying down as there aren’t as many ambient noises to cover up the pulsing beat.

What are the effects of Pulsatile Tinnitus?

While the cause of the turbulent blood flow leading to your Pulsatile Tinnitus may have its own effects, the Pulsatile Tinnitus itself may result in a variety of issues including:

  • Pulsatile Tinnitus anxiety: Anxiety caused by the inability to stop the sound in your ears.
  • Interference with your job: Due either to lack of sleep as you hear more of your Pulsatile Tinnitus lying down, or from distracting you from concentrating while at work.
  • Increased stress: Due to your lack of control over the sound in your ears and the inability to get some peace and quiet.
Man experiencing anxiety and stress from Pulsatile Tinnitus

Can Pulsatile Tinnitus be cured?

The good news is that, as most Pulsatile Tinnitus causes are usually treatable, so too is your Pulsatile Tinnitus. The first port of call is to treat the Pulsatile Tinnitus cause with medication or surgery, correcting the turbulent blood flow.

Man living happily with Pulsatile Tinnitus

Tips for managing Pulsatile Tinnitus

If treating the root Pulsatile Tinnitus causes doesn’t help to alleviate your Pulsatile Tinnitus, ongoing management of the condition can include:

  • Sound generators: Worn like a hearing aid, these devices can reduce your Pulsatile Tinnitus anxiety by creating a low level of quiet background noise.
  • White noise: This makes the Pulsatile Tinnitus less noticeable as it is drowned out by an alternate sound. White noise can come in the form of an app, a dedicated sound machine, or even a pedestal fan.
  • Behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioural therapy can help you to come to terms with your Pulsatile Tinnitus anxiety, depression, and other associated negative side effects by giving you coping mechanisms to deal with the sound.

If you do experience Pulsatile Tinnitus, it’s essential that you have it investigated further as a matter of urgency. The first step would be to make an appointment with an Audiologist for a full diagnostic hearing test.