by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Recently a woman explained,
I haven’t lost my hearing, but I hear my pulse as a “squeak” frequently. It is only on the left side, but it is very annoying and sounds like a heart murmur. Any suggestions?
When you hear your pulse in one or both ears, this is a type of tinnitus called pulsatile tinnitus. Interestingly enough, as you have found, typically you only hear pulsatile tinnitus in one ear.
I’ve never heard it described as a squeaking sound before, but it is consistent with what other people hear. One lady hears hers as a high-pitched ringing sound in time with her heartbeat, while a man explained he hears a “zing, zing, zing” sound in time with his heartbeat. Thus, your “squeak, squeak”, “squeak” fits right in.
Since you are writing to me now, I assume that this is a fairly new phenomenon—and not a tinnitus sound you’ve been hearing for years.
Typically pulsatile tinnitus is related to the blood flowing in the arteries in your neck and near your ears. Normally you don’t hear such sounds, but when something changes in the blood vessels near your ears, you sometimes hear these strange (and annoying) tinnitus sounds.
There are at least 25 different known causes of pulsatile tinnitus. The three most common causes of pulsatile tinnitus, accounting for 68% of the cases, are Benign Intracranial Hypertension (BIH) syndrome, Carotid Artery Disease (CAD) and Glomus Tumors (benign masses of blood vessels that grow near the ear). The good news is that this kind of tinnitus can often be fixed once the specific cause is identified.
Generally, pulsatile tinnitus occurs when the smooth flow of blood in the blood vessels in your neck or head is interrupted. Often this is caused by atherosclerotic build up of cholesterol on the walls of your arteries, or high blood pressure. These conditions cause your blood to flow faster and/or more turbulently—thus producing these strange sounds in step with each heartbeat.
The first step in treating pulsatile tinnitus is to go to a cardiovascular specialist and see if he can pinpoint the cause and go from there.
To learn more about pulsatile tinnitus, check out the section on “Pulsatile Tinnitus in “When Your Ears Ring! Cope with your Tinnitus—Here’s How“.