Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Is it worrisome to hear a pulse in my ear?

Q. One morning last week I woke up hearing my heartbeat in my left ear. I hear it most clearly when I am in bed or sitting quietly. My health is good, and I was told after a recent cardiac workup that my heart was "perfect." Should I be worried that I can hear the rhythmic pattern of my heart from inside my left ear?

A. What you describe sounds like pulsatile tinnitus (pronounced TIN-nih-tus or tin-NITE-us). It is a type of rhythmic thumping or whooshing only you can hear that is often in time with the heartbeat. Most people with pulsatile tinnitus hear the sound in one ear, though some hear it in both. The sound is the result of turbulent flow in blood vessels in the neck or head. The most common causes of pulsatile tinnitus include the following:

Conductive hearing loss. This is usually caused by an infection or inflammation of the middle ear or the accumulation of fluid there. Sometimes it is caused by problems with the ossicles (small bones involved in hearing). This type of hearing loss intensifies internal head noises — sounds like breathing, chewing, and blood flowing through the ear. A conductive hearing loss also makes it easier to hear blood flowing through two large vessels that travel through each ear, the carotid artery and the jugular vein, which circulate blood to and from the brain.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »