Pulsatile Tinnitus Could be a Warning Sign

The word “tinnitus” refers to noises that are perceived in the ears or in the head. Usually known as “ringing in the ears,” pulsatile tinnitus is in a different category. It is the rarest form of tinnitus. However, these are not the typical buzzing or hissing sounds of subjective tinnitus.

Instead, there is usually a rhythmic quality to the noises. Depending on the case, patients seem to be listening all day long to their hearts beating or blood flowing, which can be very upsetting as well as possibly dangerous.

Pulsatile tinnitus is also known as “Objective Tinnitus” as these sounds can often be detected or heard by a specialist – while subjective tinnitus cannot be verified by an outsider.

Report Pulsatile Tinnitus to the Doctor

People tell of ongoing swishing, whooshing, pulsing, thumping, or rushing sounds in their ear(s). These are often in time with their heart beats. Such noises may betray issues related to vascular disease, such as blood circulation and/or blood vessel problems and must be reported to the doctor at once. They may be warning signs and must be checked out. Diagnosis and treatment can involve the skills of cardiovascular specialists.   

High blood pressure, blood squeezing through blood vessels narrowed by cholesterol deposits, aneurysms, anything that causes turbulence in the blood flow, changes in the stickiness or viscosity of the blood and even tumors are among the many possible causes of pulsatile noises.

Arteries and veins of the head and neck become immediate targets for investigation.  The doctor might start by checking the condition of the carotid arteries and jugular veins, which lie close to the ears. Tests for blood vessel abnormalities and function may be ordered – such as ultrasounds, angiograms and CT scans. Blood tests for anemia and thyroid function might also be done.      

If problems are detected, they can be treated. This might involve surgery. A man once shared that the continuous, thundering noise of his blood rushing in his left ear disappeared after he had his blood vessels cleaned out. He learned that he had a 90% occlusion. He felt that the annoying sound was a warning that prevented him from having a stroke or worse. “A lifesaver,” he added.

Not Typical Tinnitus

Pulsing/rushing sounds in the ears and the head are not normal and must not be ignored. When contacting the doctor, be sure to mention the pulsing or blood rushing sounds in the ear(s). This is different from the typical tinnitus sounds. The scheduler needs to know that. The same is true if you decide to go to the Emergency Department.

Chasing the cause(s) of pulsatile tinnitus takes patience but, what starts as a nuisance might end up being a lifesaver. When Mother Nature sounds the alarm, we better heed the message.   


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