Pulsatile Tinnitus – Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Pulsatile Tinnitus (PT) often is heard as a rhythmic, whooshing, thumping, or throbbing in one or both ears. Some report it as merely annoying; for others, the sounds are intense and debilitating, making it difficult to concentrate or sleep.

Pulsatile tinnitus is different than the more common, constant form of tinnitus. While it is often benign, it will more likely have an identifiable source and may be the first sign of another underlying condition.

While it can go away on its own, PT may be indicative of other potentially dangerous conditions. These include vascular malformation, obstruction (typically in the carotid artery), or a glomus tumor. Patients experiencing PT symptoms should undergo a thorough medical evaluation. Fortunately, pulsatile tinnitus can be successfully treated and cured once the underlying cause is identified.

Because tinnitus is so common, its onset and development are commonly studied. To better classify the onset of tinnitus — and consequently, identify the best tinnitus treatment—audiologists have distinguished multiple variations of tinnitus. One of the most common types of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus, affects about 5 million Americans each year.

What is pulsatile tinnitus?

Tinnitus, broadly speaking, is a medical symptom that causes people to hear external sounds, usually described as a ringing or buzzing. PT is a specific type characterized by “rhythmic” sounds, often described as resembling a heartbeat or rhythmic “swooshing.” As is the case with all types of tinnitus, pulsatile tinnitus persists even when no external sound source is present. Learn more about the sounds of tinnitus here.

What is the difference between PT and ordinary tinnitus?

As suggested, the main difference between pulsatile tinnitus and ordinary tinnitus is the specific type of sounds people hear. Usually, instances of pulsatile tinnitus will be much more rhythmic, even drum-like. Additionally, instances of pulsatile tinnitus will often last for longer periods than ordinary tinnitus, though this will vary from person to person.

What causes of pulsatile tinnitus?

PT has many different possible causes. According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, “some [causes are] fairly benign, other [causes are] potentially life-threatening.” These causes include abnormal cerebral pressures, certain vascular abnormalities, and “unique blood flow patterns near the ear.” Though rare, PT may also indicate a tumor near the brain or ear. Common causes of “ordinary” tinnitus, including physical damage to the ear, ototoxic medications, exposure to loud noises, and age-related hearing loss, can also be connected to pulsatile tinnitus.

Can you treat pulsatile tinnitus?

If you experience PT, there are several different treatment options depending on the source of the sound. To best determine the source of the sound, talk to your primary care physician about obtaining imaging of your head and neck to rule out any abnormalities in the cranial arteries and/or veins. In some cases, surgical intervention may be recommended if the risks are low. In other cases, if the PT is related to a benign issue, patients do not have to treat it surgically. Instead, they may benefit from a habituation approach to treatment, such as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, just as non-rhythmic tinnitus patients do.

Regardless of the type of tinnitus you experience, there is hope and help for you. Hopefully, this article was helpful and shed light on what you are experiencing. There is a lot more information on this site.


At Sound Relief Tinnitus & Hearing Center, we provide hope and help to those living with tinnitus and other hearing health issues. Our patients are at the center of everything we do, and we strive to guide them to overcome their challenges by delivering innovative and compassionate healthcare.

Dr. Julie Prutsman, owner of this family-owned practice, has expanded to 9 locations across Colorado and Arizona. In 2012, she founded Sound Relief in her hometown of Highlands Ranch, Colorado and continues to foster their mission through mentorship of the brightest minds in the field of Audiology.