Whooshing Sound in Ear? It Might Be Pulsatile Tinnitus

Are you hearing a whooshing sound in your ear? Does that noise correlate with your heartbeat? If you answered yes to both questions you might have pulsatile tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus is a noise often described as a whooshing, beating, whistling, or rushing. It’s similar to the more commonly known tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, but with pulsatile tinnitus, it beats in time with your pulse.

For many people, it can be just an annoyance but for others, it can make it difficult to sleep, focus, and more. Pulsatile tinnitus isn’t something you should ignore. It can be a symptom of a serious underlying condition. Keep reading to learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of pulsatile tinnitus so you can get on the path to recovery fast.

Symptoms

Noise From Within

One of the key symptoms of pulsatile tinnitus is hearing noise that comes from within your body. Some people call this ringing in their ears. The noise can be different for each person but most people with pulsatile tinnitus report hearing a whooshing or beating sound. This noise is from the nearby blood vessels.

Sometimes hearing noise from within your body is normal, like after exercising. But the noise should never last after you’ve recovered from your workout. If you have pulsatile tinnitus or the more common tinnitus talk to your doctor.

Drawing of a woman hearing noises

Noise That Is In Time With Your Heartbeat

The other important symptom of pulsatile tinnitus is that the noise you hear correlates with your heartbeat. Your pulse is the movement of blood throughout your body. When someone has pulsatile tinnitus the noise they hear is that movement of blood.

You can check to see if what you are hearing is pulsatile tinnitus by checking your pulse. Put your forefinger on the inside of your wrist (thumb side) and feel your pulse. If your pulse moves in time with the noise in your ear then you have pulsatile tinnitus.

heartbeat

Causes

Atherosclerosis

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances along artery walls. This build up causes the arteries to become narrower, restricting blood flow through the vessel. Atherosclerosis can cause strokes, myocardial infarctions (heart attack), or angina. When this happens in the arteries in your ear, neck, or head you can develop pulsatile tinnitus.

Atherosclerosis has three main causes. The first is high cholesterol. Cholesterol is the “waxy, yellow substance that’s found naturally in the body as well as in certain foods you eat,” reports Healthline. The second common cause of atherosclerosis is a poor diet. And the third cause is aging. As much as we’d like to control aging, we can’t. So do your best to improve your lifestyle in the ways you can to avoid this arterial disease.

Atherosclerosis diagram

Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension

Well, this isn’t a condition that many people think about until they know someone who has had it or they themselves have been diagnosed with it. Idiopathic intracranial hypertension–it’s a complex name that we’ll break down for you. Idiopathic means unknown cause. Intracranial means within the skull. And hypertension means high pressure. So idiopathic intracranial hypertension is high pressure within the skull caused by an unknown source.

Typically, this condition is when there is an increase in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) around the brain. “This elevated pressure presents with symptoms like headaches, double vision, pain behind the eye and pulsatile tinnitus” reports Penn Medicine.

Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension

Blood Vessel Malformations & Disorders

Pulsatile tinnitus is the noise you hear from blood moving through the blood vessels. Any abnormal changes to your blood vessels can cause this noise disturbance. Penn Medicine confirms this by telling us that, “abnormalities or disorders – including aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations – can cause a change in the blood flow through the affected blood vessels.”

If you have pulsatile tinnitus it’s time to make an appointment with your doctor. He or she will investigate the cause of the noise which will include evaluating you for blood vessel disorders. If you have a family history of blood vessel disorders make sure to disclose that to your doctor. Some disorders can be very serious and require surgery, whereas in others your doctor will take a watch and wait approach.

Picture of blood vessels

Hypertension

Your blood pressure is the force in which your heart needs to push blood throughout your body. It goes up and down all day based on several factors. When you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, your heart is working extra hard to push blood through narrowed arteries. This causes an increase in turbulence within the blood vessels and if it is in the carotid artery or other arteries near the ear the noise can be heard within the ears.

Pulsatile tinnitus is only one of the many conditions that are a result of high blood pressure. If you suffer from chronic high blood pressure work with your doctor to lower it through medication, diet changes, weight loss, and chronic condition management.

Diagram of Hypertension

Tumors

One of the more scary causes of pulsatile tinnitus is head and neck tumors, specifically glomus tumors. Glomus tumors in the head and neck come from the glomus cells and are benign but can be invasive within the area. “These tumors are most common in part of the jugular vein that’s positioned below the middle ear,” says Penn Medicine. The source continues to say that, “Glomus tumors may grow in the middle ear and brain.”

When a head or neck glomus tumor pushes on the blood vessels it can cause pulsatile tinnitus, among several other symptoms. These tumors have many blood vessels making them a good candidate for making that pulsatile noise in your ears.

Woman feeling tumor in neck

Sigmoid Sinus Abnormalities

Two sinus wall abnormalities that can cause pulsatile tinnitus are sigmoid sinus diverticulum and dehiscence. Penn Medicine tells us, “The sigmoid sinus is a blood-carrying channel on the side of the brain that receives blood from veins within the brain.” The source continues to say, “Sigmoid sinus diverticulum refers to the formation of small pouches (diverticula) that protrude through the wall of the sigmoid sinus into the mastoid bone behind the ear.” And dehiscence is when the bone that surrounds the sigmoid sinus in the mastoid is not present.

These unusual ear abnormalities can increase pressure and blood flow within the sigmoid sinus. This causes the heartbeat noise within your ear that we call pulsatile tinnitus.

Doctor checking ear

Ear Structure Abnormalities

If you have abnormal changes to your ears then this can be the cause of hearing your heartbeat. One ear abnormality that is a known cause of pulsatile tinnitus is superior semicircular canal dehiscence syndrome says Penn Medicine. “The superior semicircular canal is one of three canals found in the vestibular apparatus of the inner ear,” says the source. When that structure becomes unusually thin or missing then you can have pulsatile tinnitus.

Superior canal dehiscence syndrome isn’t the only ear abnormality that can cause pulsatile tinnitus. Any condition that causes the bones within the ear to thin or if they are actually missing, then the blood vessels near your ear will be louder causing the heartbeat noise.

Picture of a ear

Exercise

One of the more common and simple explanations of pulsatile tinnitus is an increase in blood flow and pressure from exercising. When you run around and get your heart rate up some people can hear their blood actually pumping through their body. This can be completely benign and just something you have to work through.

However, if the heartbeat noise is new to you or does not stop when you are done exercising it’s time to make a call to your doctor. He or she can evaluate you to determine if there is an underlying cause to the noise.

exercising with smartwatch

Treatments

Manage Underlying Conditions

One of the best ways to eliminate or reduce pulsatile tinnitus is to manage your underlying conditions. Hypertension is one condition that can be easily treated by your doctor and will improve your overall health as well. Some conditions that cause pulsatile tinnitus are not easy fixes and will need to be looked at by specialists.

blood pressure monitor

Sound Therapy

Sound therapy is the use of any sound to decrease your awareness of pulsatile tinnitus says Medical News Today. The source tells us that “Many people with tinnitus notice their symptoms more when in a quiet environment, so listening to other sounds can make them less intrusive.” Essentially, it is a form of distraction to help you forget about the pulsating noise.

To use sound therapy turn on music or go outside or open the window to hear outdoor noises. Other options suggested by Medical News Today are tabletop sound generators and a wearable sound generator. It might be a bit of trial and error to find what works best for you.

sound therapy for whooshing sound in ear

Relaxation

Take a deep breath and release that stress from your body. Taking time to relax will decrease your heart rate, blood pressure, and clear your mind. You’ll feel refreshed and the pulsatile tinnitus might be quieter or gone, depending on its cause.

Find time each day to meditate, perform breathing exercises, or gentle stretching. It will increase your body awareness and may help manage your pulsatile tinnitus. However, for some people, medical treatment is the only option. So never hesitate to reach out to your doctor for the best treatment of your pulsatile tinnitus.

relaxing

Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler, RN

Patty is a freelance health writer and nurse (BSN, CCRN). She has worked as a critical care nurse for over 10 years and loves educating people about their health. When she's not working, Patty enjoys any outdoor activity that she can do with her husband and three kids.

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