What is Pulsatile Tinnitus?
When are Noises in Your Ears More than Just “Noises”?
By Dr. Margaret Hutchison, PhD
Many people experience spontaneous noises their ears appear to make on their own, or Tinnitus. More than half of all adults experience this at some time; this is usually not a symptom of something more sinister.
However, there are things that people experience that deserve additional medical treatment. For example, some people hear sounds similar to music or singing. These may be related to various neurological conditions. Sometimes, instead or ringing, buzzing or cricket-like noises, people hear sounds that are similar to listening to someone’s pulse. This may be Pulsatile Tinnitus.
Pulsatile tinnitus is a rhythmical noise that beats at the same rate as the heart and is the sound of blood circulating the body. A person can confirm this by feeling their pulse as they listen to the tinnitus noise.
Unlike other forms of tinnitus, which are thought to be caused by a disconnect between the sounds the ears hear and the way the brain interprets them, pulsatile tinnitus has a physical source. Pulsatile tinnitus occurs when the ear becomes aware of a change in blood flow in nearby blood vessels. These include the arteries and veins in the neck, base of the skull, and in the ear itself.
The main causes are:
Generalized increased blood flow
When blood is flowing quickly, such as during strenuous exercise or pregnancy, it makes more noise. Severe anemia or an overactive thyroid gland may also cause general increased blood flow in the body.
Localized increased flowa
Sometimes, blood flow increases in just one or one group of vessels. Tumors in the head and neck can lead to the development of abnormal blood vessels, which can result in pulsatile tinnitus. The majority of tumors associated with pulsatile tinnitus are benign, or are not cancerous.
Turbulent blood flow
Atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, makes the insides of the blood vessels lumpy. This leads to a turbulent and louder blood flow.
Heighten awareness of blood flow
A heightened awareness of sound may be caused by injuries or disorders in the ear. This could lead to pulsatile tinnitus.
If someone is suffering from a condition causing conductive hearing loss, such as a perforated eardrum or secretory otitis media (glue ear), they tend to be more aware of sounds from inside their body.
A condition called benign or idiopathic intracranial hypertension can cause pulsatile tinnitus, as well as headaches and sight problems. It is unclear what causes the condition, but young and middle-aged women who are overweight are most at risk.
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