Blood circulating in or near your ears is the main cause of pulsatile tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus has a physical source of sound that your are able to hear. It is normally the sound of arterial blood circulating in or around your ears.
Unlike regular tinnitus where electrical impulses are sent erroneously to the hearing centre of the brain, here you are hearing an actual sound. The good news is that the condition may heal or be medically treatable.
There are many possible causes of pulsatile tinnitus, but they all stem from circulation issues. Among the most common causes are:
Changes in blood flow to and from the head caused by narrowed or kinked neck arteries (carotid arteries) or veins (jugular veins) may also allow ears to pick up on turbulent or irregular circulation, causing pulsatile tinnitus.
The force of blood against the inner walls of your arteries increases when your blood pressure rises. This is easier for your ears to detect.
Pulsatile tinnitus can also be caused by a tumor that presses against a vein.
Blockages in your arteries that build up with age caused by a buildup of cholesterol, fats, and waste materials can cause blood flow to be 'whooshy'. If this is the cause, you may hear a rhythmic noise in one of your ears.
The tiny blood vessels that help connect your arteries to your veins can become malformed and cause pulsatile tinnitus.
Make an appointment with your GP if you think you’re experiencing pulsatile tinnitus. Your exam will start with a review of your symptoms and your medical history. Then the doctor will probably use a stethoscope to listen to your chest, neck, and skull. Objective pulsatile tinnitus will be physically heard by your GP. If not, it will be labeled as subjective pulsatile tinnitus.
You should also have a hearing test to determine whether there has been any hearing loss in one or both ears. If there is a hearing loss, then wearing hearing aids will help amplify environmental sounds that may mask the tinnitus partly or fully to give relief from the tinnitus issue.
Your doctor may refer you for some imaging tests as well. These include:
You will probably be tested for high blood pressure and given a blood test to check for thyroid disease or anemia.
A combination of medications and lifestyle changes can usually be used to treat high blood pressure and vein and artery conditions, including:
If the cause relates to a specific problem in an artery or vein, surgery or a catheter procedure may be needed to treat the condition. A flexible mesh tube, called a stent, is sometimes placed in a blocked artery to open it up and improve blood flow.
You may benefit from sound therapy if the blood vessel can’t be treated. This involves playing background noise, such as soft music, natural sounds or 'white noise' to distract you from the tinnitus or change your brain’s sensitivity to the tinnitus. Most hearing aids have these sounds already built in if you want to comfortably receive sound therapy for more extended periods. Otherwise, you can use headphones along with any number of effective apps now available. Check out our shop for bone conducting headphones that don't block your ears.
You may also benefit from cognitive behavior therapy, a form of talk therapy designed to change the way you think about a problem in order to change your emotional reaction to it and the way you behave toward it.