If you have tinnitus and high blood pressure, chances are, the two are linked.

Tinnitus refers to the perception of sounds in the ear that don’t come from the external environment and may sound like a buzzing, pulsing, or ringing. Most tinnitus sounds cannot be heard by other people. This is called subjective tinnitus. Rarely, other people can hear the tinnitus. When this happens, this is called objective tinnitus.

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels.1 Medical professionals measure blood pressure with two numbers, divided by a slash. The top number represents systolic pressure, the pressure when your heart beats. The bottom number represents diastolic blood pressure, the pressure when the heart rests between beats.1 High blood pressure is defined as systolic pressure over 130 or a diastolic pressure over 80.

Can blood pressure affect your ears?

High or low blood pressure can cause changes to your blood viscosity. Your blood viscosity is the measurement of thickness and stickiness of your blood — it determines how easily your blood flows through the blood vessels.

An increased blood viscosity (sometimes associated with high blood pressure) can mean that less blood flows through the capillaries supplying your inner ear structures and, as a result, less oxygen reaches this part of your ear. Over time, this can lead to developing problems with your hearing and potential hearing loss.2

There are three main potential links between high blood pressure and tinnitus:

  • Medication used to treat high blood pressure
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Circulatory issues, leading to high blood pressure

Stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety are widely recognized as a contributor to both high blood pressure and tinnitus. In stressful situations, the body produces hormones that increase blood pressure. In the case of tinnitus, stress may generate activity in the auditory nervous system.

People with anxiety tend to focus more on their tinnitus, causing the perception of the sounds to become stronger. As part of tinnitus treatment, patients are encouraged to distract themselves with sound therapy. Over time, the neural connections get weaker so that the tinnitus perception decreases.

Tinnitus may become a stressor that produces high blood pressure. Some may benefit from cognitive behavioural therapy that helps them understand their tinnitus and gain a sense of control over their symptoms.

Those who have post-traumatic stress disorder have a higher risk of severe tinnitus,3 so, for this group, proper PTSD treatment is essential.

Medications

The main potential tinnitus-causing medications prescribed for high blood pressure are loop diuretics. However, loop diuretics typically only cause tinnitus at high dosages. The low to moderate doses used to treat hypertension should not cause tinnitus.4

Some people use aspirin to control their blood pressure and prevent heart attacks, as it is a blood-thinning medication. Aspirin can cause temporary tinnitus in very high doses. Generally, a daily aspirin prescription involves low doses that do not reach the levels required to provoke tinnitus. However, some people may be more sensitive to medications.

Circulatory system dysfunction

The inner ear relies on blood supplied by a system of vessels in order to function properly. If this blood supply does not function well, the inner ear can become damaged over time. Therefore, the same circulatory problems that lead to high blood pressure can also contribute to tinnitus.

Pulsatile tinnitus that seems timed to a heartbeat, specifically points to a vascular problem. People with pulsatile tinnitus need to seek medical attention.

If you are interested in finding out more information on tinnitus, you can learn more in our dedicated tinnitus resource. However, if you’re experiencing symptoms of tinnitus, book a hearing appointment at Specsavers, our audiologists can advise you on the next steps.

References

  1. Heart.org. (2017). What is high blood pressure? [online] Available at: https://www.heart.org/-/media/data-import/downloadables/pe-abh-what-is-high-blood-pressure-ucm_300310.pdf [Accessed 30 Aug. 2019].
  2. Agarwal S, Mishra A, Jagade M, Kasbekar V, Nagle SK. Effects of hypertension on hearing. Indian J Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2013;65(Suppl 3):614–618. doi:10.1007/s12070-013-0630-1
  3. Fagelson, M. (2007). The Association Between Tinnitus and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. American Journal of Audiology, 16(2), pp.107-117.
  4. British Tinnitus Association. (2019). Drugs and tinnitus. [online] Available at: https://www.tinnitus.org.uk/drugs