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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Heartbeat throbbing in the ears.

06/26/2008

Question:

My wife, aged 82, is experiencing a throbbing in both ears which is in rhythm with her heart beats. It is continuous and particularly noticeable when her head rests on the pillow. She is registered partially sighted and therefore has enough to put up within daily life (i.e. mobility, medication, tension etc.) without having to cope with this continuous "throb". She has fully recovered from heart surgery 8 years ago. Her blood pressure is slightly lower than normal. Doctor says she may be going slightly deaf and the brain is trying to compensate by "turning up the volume a bit".  Says he can`t offer any remedy other than maybe a hearing aid to reduce the "call on the brain" as he put it. Not sure what all that means and would be interested to hear your comments. Many thanks.

Answer:

It sounds very relevant and worthwhile to seek an evaluation by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) physician. While the cause may be perfectly benign and perhaps self-limiting (requiring no treatment), it is also possible to have certain lesions of the inner ear and skull base that can cause pulsatile tinnitus (a heartbeat type noise in your ears). A complete examination with a hearing test and perhaps an imaging study (CT or MRI type scan) might be indicated. Anything ranging from very common allergic congestion and eustachian tube dysfunction, to rare vascular loops in the inner ear or glomus type tumors can cause pulsatile tinnitus. Ruling these things out and finding a cause (if possible) is typically preferable to trying to just address symptoms.

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Response by:

Daniel   Choo, MD Daniel Choo, MD
Associate Professor and Director, Division of Otology/Neurotology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati