There are many kinds of tinnitus, sometimes falsely distinguished as subjective and objective tinnitus. Among the objective tinnitus types is pulsatile tinnitus, which is normally caused by irregular blood flow in the arteries. Basically, you are hearing your heartbeat as manifested in the carotid artery. When this occurs, it may be related to problems in your arteries, some of which may be serious.
Hardening of the Arteries and Tinnitus
One of the more common conditions associated with pulsatile tinnitus is atherosclerotic carotid artery disease (ACAD). This condition, commonly referred to as hardening of the arteries, is when fats, bacteria, scar tissue, and other materials build up on the sides of the arteries. This buildup not only narrows the arteries, but it can break off, traveling down to narrower blood vessels and clogging them. In the case of the carotid artery, which is in the neck, the narrower blood vessels that get clogged may be in the brain, which results in a stroke.
When buildup starts in the arteries, it disrupts the flow of blood. The irregular blood flow causes turbulence, which causes vibrations that you hear. This is an important relation, because in many patients pulsatile tinnitus may be the first sign that the arteries are becoming clogged. If people get their pulsatile tinnitus checked out, it may allow them to get medication rather than surgery to treat ACAD, and, even more important, may head off a stroke.
Burst Arteries and Tinnitus
Another potential cause of pulsatile tinnitus is a dissected carotid artery. In this condition, your carotid artery has been torn, and now it is allowing blood to come out into the space around your ear. As your heart beats, it increases the pressure in this area, resulting in the sound you hear.
Dissected arteries share one thing with ACAD: they increase your risk of stroke. In fact, a dissected carotid artery is the most common cause of strokes among people under the age of 50. They can be caused by neck trauma or neck overextension. And pulsatile tinnitus is very common in this condition, occurring in about 25% of people with a dissected carotid artery.
This type of tinnitus is not normally related to TMJ, but it is serious, and it does require attention. If you think your tinnitus might be associated with TMJ, though, we can help. Please call (803) 781-9090 for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at Smile Columbia Dentistry today.