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Heartbeat in the ear & anxiety: How to manage pulsatile tinnitus

Last update on May, 31, 2024

Have you ever noticed the sensation of your heart beating in your ear? This is called pulsatile tinnitus, and it could be due to a variety of underlying causes or conditions. If you’ve been experiencing this, you may have some anxiety around what’s happening and whether it will go away. 

What is pulsatile tinnitus?

Tinnitus refers to when you hear a constant sound, usually ringing, in one or both ears, without an external source. Pulsatile tinnitus is a more specific form of tinnitus. Instead of ringing, you may hear a whooshing or thumping sound, which might align with your heartbeat. Pulsatile tinnitus in one ear only is common, but some people may experience it in both. While pulsatile tinnitus may sound like a type of condition or disorder, it’s usually a symptom of an underlying condition that needs to be treated.

Can anxiety cause the sensation of a heartbeat in your ear?

“I can hear my heartbeat in my right ear!” Anxiety might be your first reaction if you notice signs of pulsatile tinnitus. It can be unnerving or worrisome to suddenly start experiencing this symptom.

But can anxiety itself cause this symptom? When it comes to hearing your heartbeat in your ear, anxiety has been considered a possible cause. This connection may be especially acute when experiencing a panic attack, due to the body’s physiological response of increased heart rate, dizziness and numbness or tingling sensations, among other distressing physical and mental symptoms. That being said, it’s currently unclear if anxiety has a direct link to hearing your pulse in your ear. Anxiety and physical responses often go hand-in-hand, however, and there is a known link between stress and pulsatile tinnitus

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What are other causes of hearing your heartbeat in your ear?

While there is a correlation between stress and hearing your heartbeat in your ear, there are other causes of pulsatile tinnitus that can be more serious. This is why it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor so you can rule out any serious issues. What is the most common cause of pulsatile tinnitus? There’s no single top cause, but here are a few possibilities:

Pulsatile tinnitus may be a sign of an inner ear disorder, such as vertigo, which also causes dizziness. Meniere’s disease is another inner ear disorder that can cause tinnitus; it is caused by abnormal inner ear fluid pressure.

Having abnormal blood vessels can be a cause of experiencing heartbeat in your ear. This may happen if you have an arteriovenous malformation, which is a jumble of blood vessels with no capillaries between them. This may cause pulsatile tinnitus, along with more serious symptoms such as seizures.

Experiencing a change in blood flow can also cause hearing your heartbeat in your ear. Anemia can cause increased blood flow and make more blood to rush to your ears, leading to pulsatile tinnitus. High blood pressure, or hypertension, can be another cause.
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Pulsatile tinnitus diagnosis when hearing a heartbeat in your ear

Getting a pulsatile tinnitus diagnosis requires a visit to the doctor. Your doctor may start by using a stethoscope to listen to your neck and skull to see if they hear the sound you’re hearing. They may also perform a variety of hearing tests and other exams, such as:

  • tympanometry,
  • angiography,
  • MRI,
  • a doppler ultrasound and others. 

How is heartbeat in ear treated?

Pulsatile tinnitus treatment involves finding and treating the underlying cause of the issue, since hearing your heartbeat in your ear is usually a symptom of something bigger. Here are a few treatment options your doctor or hearing specialist may recommend:

While there is no such thing as medication for pulsatile tinnitus, medication for underlying health issues may help to reduce or eliminate your symptoms—such as medication to treat high blood pressure, anemia or heart disease.

On the other hand, can medication cause pulsatile tinnitus? Yes, it’s possible for some medications to cause tinnitus. A category of over-the-counter and prescription medications known as ototoxic drugs—which include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), drugs designed for cancer treatment and antidepressants, among others—have the potential to cause tinnitus or hearing loss.

If you’ve recently started a new medication and noticed a new sensation of hearing your heartbeat in your ear or a constant ringing sound, talk with your doctor.

Another way that pulsatile tinnitus, or hearing your heartbeat in your ear, can be treated is with tinnitus retraining therapy. This is a type of therapy used to treat various forms of tinnitus. It includes a combination of sound therapy and counseling to help you understand your tinnitus, your triggers, and your overall mindset.

Noise reduction may help with pulsatile tinnitus. If you’re wondering how to reduce noise pollution, you may want to consider using a noise-suppressing device, such as a white noise machine. This can help mask the sound of your heartbeat in your ear.

Because stress and anxiety have some links to pulsatile tinnitus, cognitive behavioral therapy may be helpful. Cognitive behavioral therapy for tinnitus involves working with a therapist to find ways to manage stress, learn coping strategies and practice relaxation techniques that can help you feel more calm and confident in your daily life.

When it comes to pulsatile tinnitus, sound therapy may also be beneficial. Sound therapy involves playing calming background sounds or music that can help distract your brain from hearing your heartbeat in your ear. 

There are certain cases where surgery may be recommended to help with your pulsatile tinnitus. Surgery may be needed if the cause is related to a more serious underlying condition, such as a tumor or malformation that’s causing you to hear your heartbeat in your ear.

Hearing aids can also be a good option. Hearing aids for tinnitus can help mask the distracting whooshing or thumping noise in your ear. Learn more about how Miracle-Ear hearing aids can offer specific support for tinnitus.
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FAQs about heartbeat sensations in your ear and anxiety

While pulsatile tinnitus itself isn’t dangerous, its underlying issues can be. This is why it’s important to see your doctor and rule out any serious issues if you begin noticing your heartbeat in your ear.

It is possible for pulsatile tinnitus to go away on its own. However, because it can have serious underlying causes, you should always see your doctor rather than wait for it to go away. For some people, though, pulsatile tinnitus may be chronic. 

How to stop pulsatile tinnitus depends on the underlying cause. For example, if high blood pressure is the issue, starting medication may stop the sound of your heartbeat in your ear. If the underlying cause can’t be determined, there are ways to learn to cope and reduce the sound, such as with sound therapy or hearing aids.  

If you notice muscle tension in your neck and suddenly are experiencing pulsatile tinnitus, you may wonder, can tight neck muscles cause pulsatile tinnitus? Yes, this is a possible cause, but it is fairly uncommon. It’s always best to check with your doctor.

Similar to tight neck muscles, can TMJ cause pulsatile tinnitus? Yes, it is possible but it’s also fairly uncommon. Check with your doctor if you’re experiencing your pulse in your ear and also experience TMJ issues. 

The answer to this is yes and no. There is a correlation between stress and pulsatile tinnitus. However, stress and anxiety also lead to other physical health issues that cause pulsatile tinnitus. It’s always best to discuss your stress, anxiety and tinnitus symptoms with a doctor.

Yes, allergies can be a possible cause of pulsatile tinnitus. Allergies can cause changes in blood flow that affect the inner ear. It’s important to consult with a doctor or ENT if you suspect this is the cause. 

Ear infections are a possible cause of pulsatile tinnitus. A doctor will be able to either diagnose or rule this out if you’re experiencing your pulse in your ear. 
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Experiencing heartbeat in ear?

If you have concerns related to your hearing, book an appointment at a Miracle-Ear hearing aid center near you. Our licensed hearing care professionals can conduct a free hearing test and discuss your symptoms, and refer you to another healthcare professional when necessary.

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