Pulsatile tinnitus creates a thumping sound

What is pulsatile tinnitus?

Published 14-01-2019
Last Updated14-01-2020

You may know about tinnitus, but do you know what pulsatile tinnitus is? Here's what it means to have pulsatile tinnitus and how to get treatment.
You're probably familiar with that ringing or buzzing sound that sometimes occurs temporarily - like after you've been to a concert or a loud party. Most of the time it goes away, but sometimes it doesn't. That's tinnitus as most of us know it.

There's also a lesser-known and rarer type of tinnitus called pulsatile tinnitus, sometimes known as rhythmic, vascular, or pulse-synchronous tinnitus. Like regular tinnitus, it's a continuous sound that only you can hear, but the sound is different from the ringing or buzzing.

With pulsatile tinnitus, the sound follows your heartbeat.

And while it's more like a thumping or whooshing, the beat is still constant. A doctor may be able to detect it by listening with a stethoscope, but that's not the only thing that sets pulsatile tinnitus apart from normal tinnitus.

Pulsatile tinnitus is often caused by a specific health problem. The main causes are irregular blood vessels, high blood pressure, anemia, atherosclerosis, head and neck tumors, and connection issues between the arteries and veins. Therefore, pulsatile tinnitus is often a symptom of something else that needs attention. The good news is that you can get treatment.

If you suspect you have pulsatile tinnitus, start by seeing your doctor.

Your doctor will help you figure out the underlying cause and examine your eardrums and the blood vessels of the neck. They may refer you to an otolaryngologist, who is a specialist that will check your ears and eyes, and may also give you a hearing test.

Sometimes pulsatile tinnitus can be detected through a stethoscope. If you have subjective pulsatile tinnitus, no one except you can hear it. But if it's objective pulsatile tinnitus, your doctor can detect it with a stethoscope.

Once you've been thoroughly tested and diagnosed, the doctor will recommend a treatment. Once you've been treated, the sound should stop.

What if the sound doesn't stop after treatment?

If you're still experiencing the pulsating sound after treatment of the root cause, or if the doctor can't find the cause, there are other things you can do to get relief.

White noise machines will help you sleep at night, or you can download a white noise/tinnitus app. You can also try wearable sound generators, which you wear like a hearing aid. They produce a low-level background noise that helps desensitize you to the tinnitus. If you're already wearing a hearing aid, there are tinnitus apps that will connect to your hearing aid to offer continuous relief.

Overall, there are two main types of tinnitus

Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus. It can only be heard by the person who's experiencing it, and it can be a chronic condition or a temporary one - like after you've been subjected to loud noise.

Objective tinnitus can be detected by a doctor with a stethoscope. It often moves at the pace of your heartbeat, but there may be other cases. 

Fortunately, you can receive treatment, often completely or quite effective, for both types of tinnitus. Start by making an appointment with a hearing healthcare professional near you.