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Pulsatile tinnitus is rare, brought on by constricted blood flow in and around the ears. When you hear sounds to the rhythm of your own heartbeat, that’s pulsatile tinnitus.

Most people experience pulsatile tinnitus in just one ear, but it can occur in both. And while pulsatile tinnitus usually isn’t anything to worry about, the condition may be a sign of an underlying health complication – so, see your GP for advice if you’re not sure what’s causing your symptoms.

Boots Hearingcare takes a look at some of the most important information about pulsatile tinnitus, including how it’s diagnosed and various options for treatment…

Symptoms of pulsatile tinnitus

Like regular tinnitus, the pulsatile form of this condition has ringing in the ear as its chief symptom. People may also hear whooshing, grinding, hissing or whistling noises.

Bear in mind, though, you are more likely to hear a thumping or throbbing sound if you have pulsatile tinnitus. This will beat in time with your pulse, owing to it being an effect of blood circulating around the body. Either or both ears may be affected.

Pulsatile tinnitus causes

While standard tinnitus usually has no identifiable cause, it is more likely that there will be an underlying factor behind pulsatile tinnitus, so it’s important to be aware of this to get correctly diagnosed and treated.
Some common causes of pulsatile tinnitus include:
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperthyroidism – when the thyroid gland is overactive
  • Blockage in your arteries
  • Altered awareness – brought on by factors such as conductive hearing loss
  • Head or neck tumours
If you do happen to notice any signs that could indicate pulsatile tinnitus, then contact your doctor as soon as possible for examination and confirmation of diagnosis.

Pulsatile tinnitus diagnosis

After an initial review of your symptoms and medical history, a medical professional will examine your ears and neck - to check how well the blood is circulating.

It is also likely that they will arrange additional tests to determine the exact nature of your condition. These may include:
  • A hearing check
  • Blood test
  • MRI
  • CT scan
  • Angiogram (reviewing how well your blood vessels are functioning)
  • Ultrasound
If your doctor can detect pulsatile tinnitus with just a stethoscope on your neck or skull, you will be diagnosed as having objective pulsatile tinnitus. If not, it’ll be classified as subjective pulsatile tinnitus.

Pulsatile tinnitus treatment

Most of the time, pulsatile tinnitus is treated by addressing the underlying cause.

For instance, if it’s being brought on by high blood pressure or a vein or artery condition, pulsatile tinnitus can go away with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. These may include:
  • Regular exercise
  • Quitting smoking
  • Reducing stress
  • Switching to a low-sodium diet
Sometimes, though, pulsatile tinnitus treatment means training your brain to ignore tinnitus sounds, thereby limiting its impact on your day-to-day life. Options include:
  • Sound therapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy
  • Relaxation exercises
  • Mindfulness techniques

Frequently asked questions

Can pulsatile tinnitus be dangerous?
Pulsatile tinnitus itself is not usually dangerous, although symptoms can prove annoying to some sufferers. A medical or hearing healthcare professional will advise on effective treatments for keeping these at bay.

It is possible that your pulsatile tinnitus may be caused by an underlying health condition. Visit a hearing health specialist for testing and guidance.
Does pulsatile tinnitus go away on its own?
Pulsatile tinnitus can disappear, but this will vary on a case-by-case basis and depend entirely on the underlying cause. Common occurrences of pulsatile tinnitus, such as during exercise when blood pressure increases, tend to abate once the body regulates itself.
How can I stop pulsatile tinnitus?
Pulsatile tinnitus can sometimes be stopped completely by treating the underlying cause. For instance, sufferers of high blood pressure may find a low-sodium diet and regular exercise beneficial in curbing symptoms of pulsatile tinnitus.
Is there a link between pulsatile tinnitus and anxiety?
New research has suggested a link between those suffering from anxiety and pulsatile tinnitus. If this is the case, you may notice symptoms flare up while under a lot of stress. Remember to take good care of your mental health as well as your physical wellbeing; it could go a long way in easing the impact of pulsatile tinnitus on your day-to-day life.
Pulsatile tinnitus is usually not a cause for concern; however, some cases can point to potentially serious health conditions, so it’s vital you get checked out by your GP or a trained audiologist as soon as possible.

Think you might have pulsatile tinnitus? Book an appointment with Boots Hearingcare now for a local hearing test in your area…
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