Tinnitus or “ringing in the ear” is one of the most vexing conditions, with patients hearing sounds that range from whooshing and whistling to clicking and buzzing in one or both ears. Some patients report the sounds only intermittently, but some hear them constantly. In mild cases tinnitus can be a minor annoyance, but in more severe cases the sounds can be truly debilitating, interfering with a patient’s ability to concentrate and hear actual sound.
There are several different types of tinnitus, with different underlying causes. The sounds associated with continuous tinnitus are usually the result of damage to the ear or the auditory pathways in the brain. Pulsatile tinnitus (sometimes referred to as vascular tinnitus), is characterized by sounds that are in synch with the patient’s heartbeat. These sounds are caused by turbulence in the blood flow around the ear that are audible to the patient. Tinnitus may be a symptom of a serious underlying condition, such as stenosis (a narrowing of a vein in the brain) vascular malformation, or hypervascular tumor, which is why careful evaluation by a qualified physician is always required to identify the underlying cause.
For more information, visit our Pulsatile Tinnitus page
Reviewed by: Srikanth Boddu, MD, MSc
Last reviewed/updated: September 2023
Illustrations by Thom Graves Creative, CMI