Physical Symptoms

Heartbeat in the Ear & Anxiety

Emma Loker, BSc Psychology

Written by

Emma Loker, BSc Psychology

Last updated April 11, 2023

Heartbeat in the Ear & Anxiety

Hearing your heart beating in your ear for no apparent reason? You're not alone. Many people experience this phenomenon, known as 'pulsatile tinnitus.’ Unfortunately, it can be a disturbing and unsettling experience. But what causes it, and is it something to worry about?

In this article, we'll delve into:

  • A description of what pulsatile tinnitus is
  • Symptoms of heartbeat in the ear anxiety
  • The causes of pulsatile tinnitus
  • Whether stress and anxiety can cause pulsatile tinnitus
  • Identifying if heartbeat in the ear anxiety is dangerous
  • The treatment options for pulsatile tinnitus

What is Pulsatile Tinnitus?

If you feel like your heart is beating in your ears or hear a whooshing sound, you may be experiencing a medical condition called pulsatile tinnitus (pronounced "tin nite us").

Pulsatile tinnitus is a type of tinnitus, a condition characterized by the perception of sound in the absence of an external source.

Pulsatile tinnitus specifically refers to the perception of a rhythmic pulsing or beating sound, often in sync with the person's own heartbeat. This type of tinnitus can be heard in the left ear or right ear alone or both ears and can vary in intensity.

What Are the Symptoms of Heartbeat In the Ear Anxiety?

The main symptom of heartbeat in the ear anxiety is the perception of a rhythmic pulsing or beating sound in the ear. Pulsatile tinnitus is often described as a swooshing, throbbing, or whooshing sound. Some patients may describe these sounds as annoying or unnerving.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety related to the tinnitus (this comes with symptoms of its own, which you can find out more about here.)
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness or vertigo

However, pulsatile tinnitus symptoms can vary widely from person to person and may range from mild to severe.

Pulsatile Tinnitus Causes

The main cause of regular tinnitus is hearing loss. However, pulsatile tinnitus is not typically caused by hearing loss. Instead, it is often caused by disorders of the circulatory system or blood vessels in or around the ear.

Head or neck tumors, migraines, blood vessel disorders, and thyroid problems can all cause pulsatile tinnitus. Let's explore some of the most common causes in more detail.

Abnormalities in Blood Vessels

Abnormalities in the blood vessels, such as a blood clot or an aneurysm, can cause pulsatile tinnitus by disrupting the normal blood flow in the vessels near the ear. The sound of the disrupted blood flow can be amplified and perceived as a beating sound in the ear.

A blood clot (or "thrombus") is a mass of coagulated blood that can form in a blood vessel. A blood clot that obstructs the flow of blood in a vessel near the ear can cause pulsatile tinnitus.

An aneurysm is a significant bulge in a blood vessel. If an aneurysm occurs in a blood vessel near the ear, it can disrupt the normal flow of blood and cause pulsatile tinnitus. This often involves our carotid arteries or jugular vein.

Changes in Blood Flow

Changes in blood flow, such as arterial stenosis and high blood pressure, can also alter the normal flow of blood in the vessels.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, involves blood traveling too fast around the body, causing it to hit the artery walls with force.

Arterial stenosis is a condition in which the arteries narrow, reducing the amount of blood that can flow through them. If arterial stenosis disturbs the blood flowing in the blood vessels near the ear, it can cause pulsatile tinnitus.

Inner Ear Disorders

Inner ear disorders like a middle ear infection and fluid buildup can also cause pulsatile tinnitus.

An inner ear infection is an infection of the mid-region of the ear and is caused by bacteria or a virus. The infection can cause inflammation and fluid buildup in the middle ear, altering the normal flow of sound waves.

With fluid buildup, the fluid can interfere with the normal vibration of the eardrum and the movement of the tiny bones in the middle ear, inhibiting the normal flow of sound waves and resulting in tinnitus.

Can Anxiety Affect Your Ears?

While anxiety does not directly cause ear problems, it can affect the body's physical and emotional responses, which can, in turn, affect the ears.

Anxiety and stress can cause increased muscle tension, which can lead to headaches, including those that affect the temples or the jaw. These types of headaches can sometimes be mistaken for ear problems, such as earaches or ear pain.

Anxiety can also affect the way a person perceives sounds, including the perception of tinnitus.

Another ear symptom of anxiety is ringing ears. Check out our article on anxiety and ringing in the ears for more info.

Is Pulsatile Tinnitus Dangerous?

In the majority of cases, pulsatile tinnitus is not a serious condition and does not pose any direct threat to a person's health. However, it can be a sign of an underlying health problem, which can be dangerous if left untreated.

It is important to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the cause of pulsatile tinnitus and address any underlying health issues.

Pulsatile Tinnitus Treatment

There are several treatment options for heartbeat in ear anxiety. The most appropriate treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the tinnitus.

For example, if anxiety is exacerbating your pulsatile tinnitus symptoms, a healthcare provider may suggest anxiety-related treatment methods. Check out our article on treating anxiety to find out the different options.


Medications can be used to treat pulsatile tinnitus in a few different ways. Some medications may be prescribed to address the underlying cause of the tinnitus, such as high blood pressure or a circulatory system disorder. Other medications may be used to help manage the anxiety that can be caused by pulsatile tinnitus, like anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants.

It's important to note that medication is just one potential treatment option for pulsatile tinnitus and may not be effective for everyone.

Sound Therapy

Sound therapy, also known as masking, involves the use of external sounds to mask or distract from the tinnitus. The goal of this treatment method is to make the tinnitus less noticeable or bothersome by providing a competing sound for the brain to focus on. This can help to reduce the perception of tinnitus and the mental health effects it can have.

There are several ways to use sound therapy for pulsatile tinnitus:

  1. White noise machines: These devices produce a consistent, neutral sound that can be used to mask the tinnitus.
  2. Earbuds or headphones: Soothing sounds, such as nature sounds or music, can be played through earbuds or headphones to help distract from the tinnitus.
  3. Customized sound therapy: Some patients may benefit from a personalized treatment approach, which is created specifically for the individual based on the characteristics of their tinnitus. This may involve using a combination of different sounds to mask the tinnitus.

Lifestyle Changes

This can be an effective way to manage pulsatile tinnitus and reduce the impact it has on your life. Here are a few examples of changes that may be helpful:

  • Reduce stress: Tension can exacerbate tinnitus and make it more difficult to cope with. Reducing anxiety through techniques such as relaxation techniques, exercise, or counseling can be helpful for some people.
  • Avoid loud noises: Loud noises can worsen tinnitus, so it's important to avoid or protect yourself from loud noises when possible. This may involve wearing earplugs or avoiding noisy environments.
  • Get plenty of sleep: Getting enough sleep can help to improve your health and well-being, which can, in turn, help to manage tinnitus.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise can help to improve circulation and reduce anxiety, both of which can help to manage tinnitus.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol: Caffeine and alcohol can both worsen tinnitus, so it may be helpful to limit your intake of these substances.

While lifestyle changes can help reduce the symptoms of pulsatile tinnitus, they should not be used as a replacement for seeking help from a medical professional like a doctor. It's important to work with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for your specific case for all medical conditions.


In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to treat the underlying cause of pulsatile tinnitus. This could include procedures such as venous or arterial repair or removal of a tumor.

Can Hearing Aids Help Manage Pulsatile Tinnitus Symptoms?

Listening devices amplify sound and are typically used to help people hear better when they experience hearing loss. While these can be effective for improving hearing in individuals with hearing loss, they are generally not effective for treating pulsatile tinnitus.

That being said, listening devices can sometimes be helpful for managing tinnitus that is accompanied by hearing loss. By amplifying external sounds, they can help to mask or distract from the tinnitus, which can make it less noticeable or bothersome.


Heartbeat in the ear anxiety is a condition in which a person perceives a rhythmic beating or pulsing in their ear.

There are several potential causes of pulsatile tinnitus, including abnormalities in blood vessels like high blood pressure, changes in blood flow, and inner ear disorders. While anxiety doesn't cause pulsatile tinnitus, it can worsen symptoms. To find out the exact cause of your case, speak to a doctor.

Pulsatile tinnitus can be incredibly unnerving which can worsen your anxiety and quality of life. But you don't need to suffer in silence - seek help from a doctor.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient


You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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