There is a type of tinnitus that you may not have heard of, called pulsatile tinnitus. It can range from being a slight annoyance to a completely debilitating condition that makes it difficult to even sleep.
People with this condition frequently hear a whooshing, throbbing, or thumping noise that is often noticeable when the person is laying down in bed. It can be similar to the rhythmic thumping of your heart.
Pulsatile tinnitus differs from the more common forms of tinnitus, and could affect 10 percent of tinnitus cases.
While it can go away on its own, if it doesn’t, then a medical practitioner should be consulted.
What are the symptoms?
After an intense workout, people can hear their heart if it is working hard. However, pulsatile tinnitus is when this happens even when there is no exertion. Sometimes, it is more obvious at night, as there are no other noises that mask the beat.
What are the causes of pulsatile tinnitus?
There are many causes of pulsatile tinnitus. Often when this tinnitus happens, it is due to a change in the flow of blood vessels around or near the eyes. This change in blood flow could be serious, but it could just mean that there is an enhanced ability to hear the blood flow more strongly.
Some conditions (but not the complete list) include:
- Atherosclerosis: A build-up of plaque in the arteries; when this occurs it can harden and narrow the arterial space, causing a limitation to the blood flow. This can cause the characteristic thumping or whooshing sound in one or both of your ears.
- Sinus wall abnormalities: On the side of the brain, there is a channel that receives the blood from the veins within. Some conditions can cause these channels to have an increased blood flow which causes the noise.
- High blood pressure: Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure can be a cause of the whooshing noise.
- Idiopathic intracranial hypertension: When the cerebrospinal fluid builds up around the brain, this can put pressure on the blood vessels.
- Head trauma: A study found that 53 percent of people who receive a head injury develop tinnitus.
- Paget’s disease: A chronic bone disorder involving the excessive breakdown and regrowth of affected bones; 13-23 percent of people who have this disease also develop hearing issues.
How do you diagnose pulsatile tinnitus?
Medical practitioners can find out if the sound is occurring at the same time as the heartbeat by using a stethoscope. They can also monitor the hearing with a test called tympanometry, measuring the pulsing to see if it aligns with the heartbeat.
There are also different imaging tests that can allow medical practitioners to see what is happening inside the head and neck, to find the potential causes.
Are there any treatments for pulsatile tinnitus?
It all depends on the cause of the condition. If the cause was atherosclerosis, then medication can be given.
There are also some interventions that can manage pulsatile tinnitus, including: sound generators and environmental enrichment devices (to mask the noise); relaxation techniques (to help people deal with the frustrating noise); and counseling options (to help people pay less attention to it).
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.