An introduction to pulsatile tinnitus
Tinnitus is the condition when sounds are heard in one or both ears without a corresponding source for the noises heard. It is often described as a ringing sound but may also be a whine or buzz or described in other ways.
Tinnitus is most often heard as a constant sound. However, some people experience a rhythmic noise in the ears and this is known as pulsatile tinnitus. In many cases the pulses of tinnitus coincide, or seem in time with, the beating of the heart.
The cause of pulsatile tinnitus is usually easier to find and as a result, this type of tinnitus can be more easily treated.
It is important to note than some people can suffer from both normal and pulsatile tinnitus, and these may be experienced at the same time.
What causes pulsatile tinnitus?
The cause of tinnitus can be difficult to determine, but there are some conditions or factors which are known to be associated with pulsatile tinnitus. These include:
- Changes in rate of blood flow – an increase in the amount of blood flowing through your circulatory system can increase your chances of pulsatile tinnitus. This may occur during or directly after exercise, as a symptom of anaemia or an over-active thyroid. Hardening of the arteries may also disturb blood flow. Instead of blood moving smoothly around the body, flow becomes turbulent and this creates noise
- Deafness – suffering from hearing loss, particularly if it is the result of ear wax, can worsen symptoms of tinnitus. This is because external sounds no longer mask the ‘normal’ internal sounds. For example, if you stick your fingers in your ears (gently) you suddenly become very aware of any internal sounds in your ear and it is hard to block these sounds out
- It the pulses of rhythmic tinnitus do not coincide with your heartbeat, the cause could be regular muscle contractions in the middle ear. There are a number of causes for this, including infection or inflammation in the Eustachian tube of the ear
- Lastly, there are a number of rare health conditions which can give rise to pulsatile tinnitus. An example is something called idiopathic intracranial hypertension, a condition which gives rise to increased pressure in the fluid surrounding the brain.
If the cause of pulsatile tinnitus can be identified, the underlying condition should be addressed and this should bring about the most effective and long-lasting relief. For instance, anaemia or thyroid problems are usually very treatable illnesses.
If no specific cause for the problem is found, pulsatile tinnitus should be treated in the same way as normal tinnitus and with the use of self-help techniques. For some people, the use of Ginkgo biloba to help improve the way blood flows in the arteries can be of help.