Pulsatile or pulsating tinnitus probably originates within the blood vessels inside the head or neck region when a disturbance of blood flow occurs due to increased blood flow or a narrowing of the blood vessel opening. This results in turbulent blood flow that a person can hear. The American Tinnitus Association describes tinnitus as "a subjective noise, meaning that only the person who has tinnitus can hear it. People describe hearing different sounds: ringing, hissing, static, crickets, screeching, whooshing, roaring, pulsing, ocean waves, buzzing, dial tones, even music."
Definition and Frequency of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is the word for unexplained sounds in the ear that might be constant or intermittent. One third of adults experience tinnitus at some point in their lives. About 7 per cent of people will consult with their doctors about this issue, 4 per cent have tinnitus that bothers them moderately or severely, and for 1 per cent of sufferers, quality of life is severely affected. Pulsating tinnitus is just one type of tinnitus.
Description of Tinnitus Sounds
Sounds associated with pulsating tinnitus, scientifically known as pulsatile tinnitus, seem to be synchronized with a person's heartbeat. The sounds are related to blood flowing in the blood vessels in the neck and head, close enough to the ears to be internally audible. Although these sounds pulsate in rhythm with your heartbeat, there are variations. According to Dr. Neil Bauman of hearinglosshelp.com, people may experience "drumming, beating, pounding, throbbing, pulsating or fluttering sounds. They may have single beats, or...biphasic beats (like the clip-clop of a horse)...even...swishing, swooshing or whooshing sounds..."
Symptoms & Diagnosis
It is important to investigate all occurrences of pulsatile tinnitus, because a serious underlying condition might exist. You should tell your doctor when the symptoms began, how bothersome they are and what makes them worse. Your doctor will ask for a detailed description of what your tinnitus sounds like to you, if it is one or both ears, if it's a constant noise or if it comes and goes. Your doctor may ask you to move your eyes, clench your jaw, move your head and neck, and your arms and legs to determine if, when and under what circumstances the tinnitus changes.
Pulsating tinnitus is an uncommon form of tinnitus that can be caused by a blood vessel disorder. Some specific causes of pulsating tinnitus include head and neck tumors that press on blood vessels; atherosclerosis causing major blood vessels near the middle and inner ear to lose elasticity; high blood pressure making tinnitus more conspicuous; narrowing of a neck artery causing turbulent blood flow; arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a malformation of capillaries that occurs in the connections between arteries and veins; and middle ear effusion, when fluid accumulates in the middle ear.
Once your doctor identifies underlying, treatable conditions associated with tinnitus symptoms, steps can be taken to reduce the noise. Examples of ways to decrease tinnitus symptoms include removing impacted earwax, treating a blood vessel condition, and changing your medication if a drug you are taking seems to be causing tinnitus.
Tricyclic antidepressants and some anti-anxiety medications may help reduce symptoms and the difficulties caused by living with tinnitus. Sometimes symptoms can be alleviated by making lifestyle changes such as reducing loud noises and cigarette smoke; covering up noise with a fan, soft music or a white noise machine to maintain a quieter environment; managing stress through relaxation therapy, biofeedback or exercise; and reducing alcohol consumption.
You may be able to avoid pulsating tinnitus by taking care of your cardiovascular system by exercising regularly and eating right. Tinnitus is often the result of a health issue that can't be prevented, but taking care of your body and protecting your ears can help avert certain types of tinnitus. Wear hearing protection if your job exposes you to loud machinery and try listening to music at lower volumes, especially when using headphones.