What Is Pulsatile Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a medical term to describe a condition in which the individual perceives sound when no external sound is present. It can best be explained as a symptom of some underlying condition. This may occur in one or both ears. Some people describe it as “ringing in the ears.” For others, it may be a roaring, whistling, clicking or chirping sound.


Tinnitus may present itself as a constant or intermittent sound with a range from low to quite loud. Unfortunately, many Americans are diagnosed with tinnitus. According to the American Tinnitus Association, approximately sixteen million receive treatment for tinnitus.

Pulsatile Tinnitus Ear DiagramPulsatile tinnitus is one specific type of tinnitus that is not as prevalent, but can be quite debilitating. People explain this condition a hearing their heartbeat in their ear. In this case, the individual hears the sounds of his own pulse or muscle contractions.

These sounds are related to blood flow of the neck or face. Tinnitus is different in that it is a steady noise. Whereas, pulsatile tinnitus produces sounds similar to thumping or beating.

These abnormal noises may even be heard by the doctor upon examination with special instruments. Fortunately, tinnitus is usually not life threatening, but pulsatile or unilateral tinnitus may be caused by a potentially more serious underlying condition. Diagnosis requires specialized audiometric testing and imaging studies of the vascular system of the head and neck.

If you can hear your own heartbeat, you may be experiencing this phenomenon called pulsatile tinnitus which can worsen as we grow older because the blood flow in arteries tends to be more turbulent because the arterial walls have stiffened due to age. Pulsatile tinnitus may worsen at night because when lying in bed, more blood is reaching your head area and there are few external sounds to block the noise. If you notice this phenomenon, you should consult your physician to determine if it is a sign of a more threatening condition such as blood vessel damage or the signs of a possible tumor.