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High Blood Pressure-Induced Tinnitus

February 20, 2023
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Written by
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A

Dr. Amy Sarow is a practicing clinical audiologist and serves as Audiology Lead for Soundly. Her expertise and experience span topics including tinnitus, cochlear implants, hearing aid technology, and hearing testing. She holds a doctoral degree in audiology from the University of Iowa. During her residency at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Sarow was inspired by the three-tiered, patient-centered approach, incorporating clinical work, teaching and research.

Soundly Staff
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Have you ever heard a pulsing, pumping, or pounding sound in your ear? If so, you may be experiencing tinnitus. Tinnitus is a condition that affects nearly 50 million Americans and can range from mildly annoying to unbearable. So, what exactly causes this condition? There are many potential causes of tinnitus, and the condition is most often caused by some degree of hearing loss, another reason people experience this sound is due to high blood pressure. This article will discuss tinnitus and how high blood pressure can affect it.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception that causes you to hear sounds without any external noise source. These sounds can be described as ringing, buzzing, humming, whistling, chirping, or other sounds in one or both ears. The intensity of the sound varies from person to person and can range from mildly distracting to really bothersome. I’ve seen many patients with tinnitus, and everyone’s experience is different.

Pulsatile Tinnitus

Another form of tinnitus is pulsatile tinnitus. This type of tinnitus is usually described as a pulsing, pumping, or pounding sound in the ear. Pulsatile tinnitus may have a vascular or non-vascular origin. While tinnitus is a symptom rather than an illness, pulsatile tinnitus warrants further investigation. Here are some conditions that can cause pulsatile tinnitus:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Superior canal dehiscence
  • Glomus tumor
  • Sinus wall abnormalities
  • Intracranial hypertension
  • High blood pressure (aka, hypertension)

Some people find pulsatile tinnitus becomes louder when lying in certain positions, during exertion (like, exercise), or when standing up or lying down.

The CDC estimates that about half of adult Americans have high blood pressure. Due to its prevalence, high blood pressure is a possible contributing factor to pulsatile tinnitus.

How is blood pressure measured?

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and is written as two numbers, such as 120/80 mmHg. The first number is systolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure when your heart contracts to pump out blood. The second number is diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure between heartbeats when the heart is relaxed.

What is high blood pressure?

A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 or below. It is considered high blood pressure when elevated above these levels (e.g., 130/80). How does high blood pressure affect the body? High blood pressure (HBP) is a medical condition characterized by increased force at which blood flows through your arteries and veins. It occurs when the force exerted by the heart on your arteries increases beyond normal levels. This increased force on the vascular system has negative health consequences. For example, it increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and cardiovascular events.

How does high blood pressure cause tinnitus?

High blood pressure can cause tinnitus because it increases blood flow force through your veins and arteries, including those around your head, sinuses, and ears. As the blood is sent through your veins and arteries with more force, the result is a pulsing sound that may follow your heartbeat. The tangled veins and arteries in and around the sinus area lend themselves, particularly to this effect. Some individuals are more prone to pulsatile tinnitus due to their anatomy, such as the proximity of veins in relation to the ear. Additionally, high blood pressure means greater force as the blood travels through the vessels, resulting in an audible pulsing sound.

Should I see a doctor?

If you have pulsatile tinnitus, it’s always best to have a doctor evaluate your symptoms. Depending on the doctor you see, the exam may involve examining the ears, sinuses, and neck, in addition to overall health. For example, they may use a stethoscope to listen to areas on the neck and skull. The doctor will also look at your blood pressure, which can also affect tinnitus. To rule out other conditions, you may also have imaging (such as an MRI of the head and neck), CT scan, or an MRA to examine the arteries.

How To Treat High Blood Pressure-Induced Tinnitus

High blood pressure is best managed with lifestyle changes. Lifestyle management includes regular physical activity and a balanced diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Drinking enough water and reducing sodium intake are healthy habits that help manage blood pressure. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight will keep your organs functioning optimally. Make sure to consult your physician regarding your diet or physical activity changes. Medications can also help treat hypertension if these lifestyle changes don't work alone. The important thing is to stay on top of health issues, such as high blood pressure to maintain good health.

Tinnitus Management

High blood pressure deserves your attention, not only due to its potential contribution to tinnitus but also to your physical and mental well-being. However, if you find your tinnitus bothersome, some additional tips can help to address tinnitus and find relief. That being said, lifestyle modifications can make a significant improvement in how you feel. However, please contact a healthcare professional for additional support if you're experiencing distress or anxiety due to tinnitus.

Conclusion

High blood pressure has long been linked with various health issues, including causing or worsening tinnitus symptoms. Managing high blood pressure through lifestyle changes can help reduce symptoms associated with hypertension, making life easier for those suffering from these conditions. While there are many potential causes for tinnitus and in particular, pulsatile tinnitus, the condition should be evaluated by a medical professional.

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