Experiences with pulsatile tinnitus?
August 19, 2007 12:16 AM   Subscribe

Pounding sound in my left ear: how worried should I be?

Forgive me in advance if this is kind of long, and I know you're probably not a doctor.

About an hour ago, I started hearing a strange, muffled knocking/thumping noise. At first it sounded like someone pounding on a wall in another room. My brother and boyfriend can't hear it, though, which led me to realize that it's actually coming from inside my head. It's totally irregular, sounds sort of like a heartbeat but happens at random intervals (approximately every 10-20 seconds I'll hear a series of thumps). If my boyfriend puts his head up to my left ear, he can hear a faint clicking sound, so it seems like a kind of objective tinnitus. When I googled "pounding in ear", I came up with several articles on pulsatile tinnitus, and the symptoms seem consistent.

Other information: I'm not on any medication, but I took Benadryl this morning for my allergies. Also, I was born with no hearing in my right ear, which is probably totally irrelevant, but it makes the noise in my left ear even more distracting.

I'm going to the doctor as soon as I can schedule an appointment, but does anyone have any experience with this? Care to allay my fears, or scare me into seeking emergency medical help? Thanks.
posted by arianell to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know if it's the same thing, but this occasionally happens to me when I drink too much caffeine and the muscles around my ear and jaw twitch.
posted by Kickstart70 at 12:18 AM on August 19, 2007

Response by poster: Hmm, I haven't had any caffeine today.
posted by arianell at 12:24 AM on August 19, 2007

I get that sometimes, feels like an ear twitch. I'd guess it was just your inner ear parts spasming.
posted by sanka at 12:28 AM on August 19, 2007

Once in a while, I'll have a bout of spastic acoustic reflex, with no triggering sound, just in one ear. It's sort of self-sustaining, where one twitch perturbs something and the subsequent relaxation triggers the next twitch.

Can you wiggle your ears? Try watching in a mirror while you move your eyebrows; that's how I learned to wiggle mine. (Actually I noticed the sound of my bowl-top hair scraping the top of my ear, while I made faces at myself in the mirror.) I've found that doing a solid minute of "ear push-ups" will defuse whatever situation causes the pulsing thing.
posted by Myself at 2:13 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

My guess would be that you're hearing your pulse. Check against your wrist.

The ear canal is swelling up (due to allergies? An infection?) to the point where it's almost blocked, and you can hear the your pulse when the sides make contact. The clicking sound could be the moist sides sticking and unsticking.

At least, that's what has happened to me on a couple of occasions. Antibiotics nailed it for me. Stretching your neck and yawning might relieve the symptoms.
posted by Leon at 4:38 AM on August 19, 2007

if you have allergies, you might have gunk in your ears that's draining irregularly. take an expectorant (like mucinex) and see if that helps. also, try applying a moist, hot compress to your ear for a while. that may loosen the gunk.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:39 AM on August 19, 2007

Ditto what 'thinkingwoman' said. Any congestion in your ears will cause you to hear things you would normally not.
posted by Womanscientist at 5:19 AM on August 19, 2007

The last time I had an ear infection, it started almost exactly like you're describing. (Except that I didn't think to have anyone else listen to my ear, so I don' t know whether there was any audible clicking.) If that's the case, you'll want to start decongestants and warm compresses, and possibly try lying on your side on the unaffected ear for a while to let the other ear drain better. The latter has never done me any good, but it seems to help other people, and can't do any harm to try.

If you start feeling sharp pain inside that ear, that'll be a pretty good tipoff that you do have an infection going on. It's not an emergency thing and might clear itself up, but if it lasts more than a few days it's probably too nasty a bacteria to clear itself up, so you'll want to get yourself to the doctor for some antibiotics.
posted by Stacey at 5:21 AM on August 19, 2007

I've had exactly what you're describing. It wasn't blockage, congestion, or swelling, and it wasn't my pulse.

It was a tic. As in, muscle tic. I get these around my eye every now and then, too. Usually because I haven't eaten that well in a few days, and so I'm missing some important vitamin or mineral. My personal guess was potassium (after doing some research), but to cover all my bases, I started taking a multivitamin every day. The tic hasn't come back since.
posted by Merdryn at 8:06 AM on August 19, 2007

In 2005 I had a ruptured/infected ear. For about 12 days I was deaf in that ear but I heard my heartbeat and tinnitis. It was pounding away. That went away but I still have the tinnitis.

My understanding is that those kinds of sounds are usually involving the nerves. They can be caused by trauma or even just by stress sometimes. Definitely have it checked to see if there's an infection & have that treated. As for the sound though, from my experience there's not really anything any doctor will say they can do for it. They'll tell you that for some people it will just go away on its own in time. I've been told that for mine it will go away if that nerve in my ear dies... never prayed for the death of a nerve in my body before, but I've done it quite a bit since.

Hang in there. I hope it goes away soon.
posted by miss lynnster at 8:52 AM on August 19, 2007

The other two things that haven't been mentioned are arteriovenous malformation and carotid-cavernous fistula. Of the things that have been mentioned these two are occasionally audible outside the head, although it usually takes a stethoscope.

If you have either of these things going on, you'll want to know about them. Do see your doctor.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:02 AM on August 19, 2007

A few months ago, I had a problem I would have described in very similar terms, except that my ear itched a little bit deep inside, and every once in a while there was an associated mild twinge. It went on for most of an afternoon and then stopped.

Two days later something fell out of my ear that looked like a tiny (1/4" X 1/4") piece of blackened dry leaf. I concluded I had bled a little inside my ear canal, and that blood had coated my eardrum and dried, and that my eardrum was twitching to dislodge it.

So I would guess something is impinging on your ear drum, and that your ear drum is twitching in response.
posted by jamjam at 11:38 AM on August 19, 2007

As someone who has experienced pulsatile tinnitus for years, and who has exhausted all web sources for information, permit me to recommend this site.
Three years ago it stopped . . never to be heard from again
posted by Neiltupper at 11:19 PM on August 19, 2007

What did the doctor say, if anything useful? Did it go away w/any of the above, e.g. Vitamins, sleep, et al?
posted by prodevel at 5:16 AM on January 17, 2008

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