What Is Pulsatile Tinnitus?

Pulsatile tinnitus is a condition where you hear a sound in your ear when there is no external sound present. People with pulsatile tinnitus most commonly hear a whooshing sound that pulses in rhythm with their heartbeat. Pulsatile tinnitus is often intermittent, meaning it comes and goes. 

Tinnitus vs. Pulsatile Tinnitus 

Tinnitus refers to hearing a sound, such as a continuous buzzing or ringing, when there’s no external sound. Pulsatile tinnitus is a specific type of tinnitus. It causes people to hear whooshing or buzzing sounds, usually in rhythm with their pulse.

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

Fellowship-trained experts make up our multidisciplinary pulsatile tinnitus team. Our pulsatile tinnitus specialists use leading-edge treatments and state-of-the-art imaging technology. We also participate in clinical trials to offer eligible patients access to the newest therapies. 

We are a high-volume pulsatile tinnitus treatment team. We have more specialists working together to treat this condition than anywhere else in the Mountain West region. 

Young woman holds head in pain

Pulsatile Tinnitus Symptoms

People with pulsatile tinnitus tend to hear irregular pulsing or whooshing sounds that occur in rhythm with their heartbeat. The sounds may worsen when they turn their head to one side or lie down. 

Less commonly, they may also have: 

  • headaches,
  • hearing changes, or 
  • vision changes. 

What Does Pulsatile Tinnitus Sound Like? 

Usually, pulsatile tinnitus sounds like a whooshing. You may also hear: 

  • clicking,
  • crackling, 
  • pinging, or 
  • scratching.

When to See a Doctor

Tell your primary care provider if you have any symptoms of pulsatile tinnitus. You will likely have imaging tests to look for a root cause.

Ask your primary care provider for a specialist referral if you have: 

  • changes in vision, new weakness, loss of sensation, or thoughts of suicide due to your symptoms;
  • constant symptoms (the sounds do not come and go but are always present); or 
  • symptoms that worsen over several weeks or months. 

Find a Pulsatile Tinnitus Specialist

Pulsatile Tinnitus Causes

Some conditions that can cause pulsatile tinnitus include: 

  • atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries);
  • blood vessel disorders, such as a dural arteriovenous fistula (irregular connection between an artery and vein), aneurysm (bulge), or dissection (tear) in an artery;  
  • head and neck tumors; 
  • high blood pressure;
  • increased pressure in the brain (idiopathic intracranial hypertension); and
  • thinning of the bones inside the ear.

However, there is no clear root cause of pulsatile tinnitus in many cases. 

Can Tight Neck Muscles Cause Pulsatile Tinnitus? 

Tight neck muscles may cause pulsatile tinnitus. Many people who have pulsatile tinnitus also experience frequent tension headaches, which tight neck muscles can cause. 

Pulsatile Tinnitus in Pregnancy 

Pregnant women often experience symptoms that affect their ears, nose, and throat. These symptoms aren’t a cause for concern in most women. In a small number of pregnant women, pulsatile tinnitus is a warning sign of high blood pressure, which could be a symptom of preeclampsia. 

Is Pulsatile Tinnitus Dangerous?

Pulsatile tinnitus isn’t usually dangerous. Most people don’t need treatment for the condition. But some serious conditions can lead to pulsatile tinnitus. If you have any pulsatile tinnitus symptoms, it’s important to rule out serious causes. 

What to Expect at Your First Appointment

You will need to request that your referring provider send us all your medical records and imaging results before your first appointment with our clinic. Our team will review your health records and tailor your visit based on which specialists you may need to see. 

We may order additional imaging tests such as angiograms (tests to evaluate blood vessels) or specialized MRIs to get a closer look at your brain. Depending on your test results, you may meet with an: 

Pulsatile Tinnitus Treatment

Depending on the root cause, pulsatile tinnitus treatment may include: 

  • medication to manage underlying conditions such as increased brain pressure or high blood pressure;
  • minimally invasive interventions, such as placing a stent to treat blood vessel disorders or intracranial hypertension; or  
  • self-management techniques or home treatments, such as meditating, using relaxation tools, or wearing a noise-suppressing device such as a sound machine. 

Does Pulsatile Tinnitus Go Away? 

Whether pulsatile tinnitus goes away depends on several factors, including the root cause. If there’s a clear cause of your symptoms, treatment may relieve or stop pulsatile tinnitus. 

When there’s no clear cause, it’s less likely that your symptoms will disappear entirely. However, self-management techniques and other treatments may lessen your symptoms so they don’t interfere with your daily life.

Close-up of black female ear

What Aggravates Pulsatile Tinnitus?

Many different factors can worsen pulsatile tinnitus symptoms. You may notice symptoms are more severe when you: 

  • are in a quiet room, 
  • exercise, or 
  • lie down.

Schedule an Appointment at U of U Health

You will need a physician referral to make an appointment with one of our pulsatile tinnitus specialists. To make a referral, providers may call 801-213-0977.