tinnitus making man hold ear in discomfort
tinnitus making man hold ear in discomfort

Pulse in Ear: Possible Causes and Treatment Options

Can you hear the sound of your heartbeat in your ears? Read ahead to learn more about this surprisingly common symptom and what you can do about it.

Have you ever used the phrase, “My heart was beating out of my chest”? Maybe you were recalling the plot of a suspenseful movie or describing the experience of speaking in front of a large crowd.

A rapidly beating heart is a normal stress response to feelings of excitement or anxiety. However, if you can physically hear the pulsing of your heart in your ears, you may be experiencing something different.

Reasons for Hearing a Pulse in Your Ear

Approximately 50 million people in the United States are affected by a condition referred to as tinnitus. This term is pronounced either as "ti-nuh-tuhs" or "ti-NIGHT-us" and is identified by a continuous noise in one or both ears that can manifest as a ringing, hissing, buzzing, or rushing sound.

One form of tinnitus that’s known as “pulsatile tinnitus” is experienced as auditory thumps or whooshes that occur in time to the beating of one’s pulse. This is the ear hearing the rhythmic sound of blood flowing.

Causes of Pulsatile Tinnitus

It's common for individuals to experience a temporary form of tinnitus following exposure to loud noises, such as those encountered at a live concert or a sports event held indoors. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, this noise lingers long after the exposure to a loud noise and is unaffected by their location or the noise level around them.

There are several common causes of pulsatile tinnitus specifically, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • A side effect of ototoxic medication, including ibuprofen, salicylates such as Pepto-Bismal, anti-inflammatory medications, antidepressants, sedatives, and certain antibiotics
  • An issue with the blood vessels around the ears or neck
  • Damage or an obstruction within the middle ear or outer ear
  • Hearing loss due to chronic exposure to loud noises or the natural aging process

This list is not exhaustive, and research into the cause of pulsatile tinnitus is ongoing. To read more about tinnitus and its causes, click here.

Next Steps for Pulsatile Tinnitus

If you're experiencing pulsatile tinnitus—whether it has emerged suddenly or is isolated to one ear, or if your tinnitus changes following the use of medication—it's important to consult your general health care provider to determine whether any significant medical condition may be causing your symptoms.

If any serious medical conditions are ruled out, the next step is to have your hearing assessed by a hearing care professional, who can help you determine whether your tinnitus is being caused by hearing loss.

Treatment for Pulsatile Tinnitus Caused By Hearing Loss

If your tinnitus is caused by a medically treatable condition, your physician will be able to recommend the best course of action.

In the event your tinnitus is caused by hearing loss, your local hearing care professional will be able to help with an in-person evaluation. Personalized treatment may include being fitted with custom hearing aids that will bring in the sounds you are missing and make your symptoms of tinnitus less noticeable.

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