You may notice your heartbeat in your ear when lying down to sleep at night. Placing the head on your pillow can make you aware of the sound of your heartbeat in your ear, which can interrupt sleep for some. In some cases you may only hear your heartbeat on one side of the ear, but in less common cases it is heard equally in both ears. What causes people to hear their heartbeat in the ear and should you be concerned when this occurs?
The term pulsatile tinnitus is commonly used to describe the sensation of hearing a rhythmic swishing sound from your heartbeat in the ear. Like other types of tinnitus, the causes of this condition can vary, but while continuous tinnitus is not usually cause for alarm pulsatile tinnitus can be the sign that you have an underlying health problem that will need to be addressed. Visiting an ear, nose and throat doctor can help ensure if any health issues are diagnosed so the proper treatment can be administered.
In most cases pulsatile tinnitus will fade on its own and only needs to be addressed by a doctor if it is particularly bothersome. In this case the doctor will listen to the blood flow in the arteries of the neck and examine the ears, checking for a sound that indicates that there is an obstruction. If this sound is present tests to check for carotid arteries, narrowing or malformations will be necessary. If found, these issues may need to be surgically corrected.
Stress can increase tinnitus symptoms, so stress management is essential to eliminating symptoms. Relaxation therapy, exercise or biofeedback may be helpful.
Alcohol consumption should be reduced as consuming alcohol dilates the blood vessels, increasing blood flow, particularly to the inner ear.
Fast flood flow will cause more noise than when the blood is flowing through the body at a slow rate. If the blood flow throughout the body is increased, such as the increase of activity that is caused after exercise or during pregnancy it can cause pulsatile tinnitus. Anemia or an overactive thyroid gland can also cause this condition to occur.
If a blood vessel or group of blood vessel is blocked it can cause an increase in blood flow in a nearby area. A common example of this is the stapedial artery in the middle ear which typically closes before birth but in some cases remains open and encourages blood flow. This can lead to pulsatile tinnitus. If a tumor or other blockage is putting pressure on the blood vessels in the neck or head, this can also cause you to hear the blood flow in the ear.
If blood flow within a vessel is irregular, often due to hardening of the arteries, it can cause a turbulent blood flow that is easier to hear. This is similar to the idea that choppy water makes more noise than a gentle stream in nature.
Altered awareness can be caused by an increase in the sensitivity of the auditory pathways or hearing loss caused by damage to the ear. Those that are less aware of external sounds or more aware of general sounds may find themselves more likely to tune into the sound of the blood flow in their ears.
A condition known as intracranial hypertension or idiopathic intracranial hypertension can lead to pulsatile tinnitus. This causes headaches and visual disturbances as well. Overweight women are more likely to experience this condition, though men and women can both develop these symptoms.