Most people who complain of tinnitus have steady noises, often sounding like ringing, hissing, buzzing or humming that may wax and wane but drone on when heard. This is typical neurologic tinnitus often caused by inner ear damage or nerve dysfunction or hyperactivity. Have you ever heard a pulsing in your ears? This if commonly heard in only one ear, but it may be heard on both sides. What causes this?
This “pulsatile tinnitus” is often considered a somatosound or noise that is generated by physical movement within the body. Clicks can be due to middle ear muscle spasms, TMJ dysfunction can produce clicking or grinding noises, and damaged spinal vertebrae can produce noise as well. However, if the sound is a “whooshing” that is timed with one’s heart pulse, the cause is typically blood vessel related. Intracranial hypertension, or high blood pressure in the head, can cause one to hear the pulse in the eardrum. Also, conditions such as glomus tumor or glomus jugulare are abnormal blood vessel configurations that can pulsate with the heartbeat.
If anyone you know complains of this phenomenon, a fully diagnostic audiological evaluation is a good starting point. It is important to determine the state of the middle ear, as well as hearing in both ears. Often an otolaryngologist can use this information to differentiate between potential causes. Imaging studies may be helpful, as well. There may not be a serious health risk, but the sensation may be a warning sign to the patient to have the ears examined.
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