Tinnitus & Hypertension: How Blood Pressure Can Affect The Ears

Woman taking man's blood pressure

Blood pressure is defined as the pressure of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries within the body. There are three major blood vessels found in the body: arteries, capillaries, and veins. Arteries are the blood vessels responsible for carrying blood away from the heart, while veins carry blood toward the heart. When the heart pumps, blood floods the arteries and it is carried from the heart to other parts of the body. Veins carry blood from other parts of the body back to the heart. Capillaries, the smallest blood vessels that connect arteries and veins, allow oxygen and nutrients to be exchanged for carbon dioxide and waste in organs and tissues. 

Blood pressure naturally rises and falls throughout the day, based on activity level and health. Although blood pressure has the potential to be standard and perfectly healthy, changes to normal blood pressure can result in serious damage and ill effects. While tinnitus can commonly be caused by hearing loss and medications, blood pressure and tinnitus may actually be linked, and blood pressure can lead to the onset of tinnitus symptoms.

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How Is Blood Pressure Measured?

Patient getting their blood pressure checked

There are two types of blood pressure – systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats, while diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your arteries when the heart rests in between beats. These measurements can be read as follows: if systolic blood pressure is 120 and diastolic is 80, blood pressure would be identified as “120 over 80.” This measurement is typically considered the ideal blood pressure rate, and is not typically associated with any blood vessel disorders or complications.

What Is High Blood Pressure?

High blood pressure is a condition known as hypertension. While blood pressure does increase and decrease throughout the day, consistently high blood pressure has been linked to the risk of developing heart disease and experiencing heart attack and stroke. When high blood pressure is present consistently, cardiovascular events are far more likely to occur. Hypertension is considered an important risk factor for blood vessel disorders, including Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD), and Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD). Blood pressure increases can cause many damages to overall health, and lifestyle changes and other interventions are recommended for anyone experiencing the symptoms of hypertension.

Causes Of High Blood Pressure

Bottle of beer and a glass

The underlying cause of high blood pressure can vary, but often include older age, genetics, unhealthy lifestyle choices (high sodium diet, high alcohol consumption, lack of exercise, tobacco use, and high caffeine intake, to name a few), certain health problems like diabetes and obesity, and even pregnancy. Hypertension can be tied to an underlying condition, as might be the case of diabetes or pregnancy related blood pressure changes, or can be tied to several different issues within the body.

Head or neck trauma that results in vagus nerve injury (the nerve responsible for the regulation of internal organ functions) can result in the body losing some of its ability to regulate blood pressure and your blood pressure can go up. A doctor is necessary to evaluate the root cause of hypertension and the best treatment for the condition, which may include medication, lifestyle changes, and other interventions to soothe symptoms and maintain heart health.

Knowing Your Blood Pressure

Individuals can monitor their blood pressure by having it measured by a healthcare professional or utilizing a monitor at home. Healthcare professionals do have an advantage in evaluating blood pressure ranges, as they can provide the appropriate range for blood pressure readings, and can determine if it is normal, low, or high, and what type of intervention, medication, or regimen is needed to help maintain heart health.

Symptoms Of High Blood Pressure And Other Related Disorders

Old man with a headache holding his head in pain

Individuals with high blood pressure can experience headaches, chest pain, abnormal heart rhythm, dizziness, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, anxiety, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Although people are not often aware that the speed at which blood moves can cause them to experience ringing in the ears, high blood pressure is among the causes of tinnitus, and having hypertension can increase the risk of beginning to experience tinnitus symptoms.

High blood pressure can also have no warning signs or symptoms, and many do not know they have it until it is measured. An estimated 46% of adults with hypertension are unaware that they have the condition, and have not explored treatment options to support the delicate network of blood vessels in the body that contribute to the risk factors involved in developing heart disease and other CVDs.

Blood Pressure And Tinnitus

Conditions that affect the blood vessels–think atherosclerosis, hypertension, and kinked or malformed blood vessels–can ultimately result in blood moving through the veins and arteries with increased force. The changes to general blood flow can cause tinnitus, or make tinnitus symptoms worse or more noticeable. This is particularly true of pulsatile tinnitus, or a type of tinnitus directly related to blood pressure changes.

High blood pressure often results in an increase in blood viscosity. Increased blood viscosity, or blood becoming thicker, results in increased difficulty of blood flow, including blood vessels in the ear. Decreases in blood flow and corresponding oxygen to the ear may result in hearing loss, which is currently considered the leading cause of tinnitus onset. Does high blood pressure cause tinnitus? Ultimately, it can play a significant role in developing the inner ear disorder.

Ironically, some medications used to manage blood pressure may result in temporary tinnitus when they are taken on a regular basis. The most common types of medication to cause tinnitus include loop diuretics and aspirin. Atherosclerosis (a buildup of cholesterol in blood vessels) causes vessels to become stiff and unable to flex and expand appropriately. This results in restriction to blood flow and a more forceful flow of blood, which can be picked up by the ears.

Two types of tinnitus have been linked to blood pressure changes: pulsatile tinnitus and non pulsatile tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus can occur in one or both ears, and matches the heartbeat. It can be objective, or heard and measured by a medical professional, provided that the cause of pulsatile tinnitus is cardiovascular in nature. Subjective tinnitus (or non pulsatile tinnitus) is perceived only by the individual experiencing hearing loss or hearing changes.

Also described as hearing “phantom sounds,” tinnitus may be perceived as frightening, alarming, or deeply discomfiting, and can indicate the need to make changes to health and lifestyle habits. The question, “Can blood pressure cause tinnitus?” is a resounding yes, though it is not always the root cause of the condition.

Positive Associations Between Tinnitus and Arterial Hypertension

Cross-sectional, transversal studies do support the association between tinnitus and arterial hypertension, especially when the subjects in question are of advanced age. Hearing loss or a decreased ability to hear sounds of all types is also higher in this population. As part of the investigation into the notion of high blood pressure as a cause of tinnitus, the study looked at the average age of patients with both tinnitus and arterial hypertension, and those with tinnitus alone, and determined that the age of those with both conditions was significantly higher.

Tinnitus and arterial hypertension are both more common in people of advanced age, but there is potential for a synergistic action between presbycusis (hearing loss of the inner ear directly related to age) and arterial hypertension, which may contribute to the onset of tinnitus. The conclusions drawn in the study can lend credence to the idea that arterial hypertension is likely to be a cofactor of tinnitus onset, rather than a root or main cause.

Treatment Options For Hypertension

Person meditating for stress reduction

The treatment options for hypertension depend on the high blood pressure cause. If lifestyle choices, for instance, are at the root of its development, healthy dietary changes, losing weight, increasing daily movement, quitting tobacco, and reducing or managing stress can all function as treatments for hypertension.

Some medications prescribed by a healthcare professional can also be used to reduce hypertension, including blood thinners, ace inhibitors and beta blockers, both of which are common interventions recommended for high blood pressure. These must be prescribed by a medical professional.

Diagnosing Blood Pressure And Tinnitus

It is important to be evaluated by physicians and audiologists to confirm any abnormal diagnoses regarding blood pressure and to assess the auditory system for signs of hearing loss and tinnitus. Earwax buildup, loud noise exposure, and damage to the tiny hairs within the ear can all lead to experiencing tinnitus, so people experiencing tinnitus should not immediately assume the presence of high blood pressure.

A hearing test can confirm hearing levels and possible tinnitus symptoms. Because tinnitus can be the result of a lack of auditory stimulation to the brain due to damage of the hair cells of the auditory nerve in the inner ear, or due to other obstructions of sound that can occur in the outer or middle ear, it is important to rule out other possible issues causing tinnitus. Loud sounds can also damage hearing through the inner ear, so hearing protection is vital to use during exposure to loud noises.

Managing Tinnitus

If clinicians can find an underlying cause, such as high blood pressure, they may be able to treat that problem first, which can limit the symptoms of tinnitus. If, however, high blood pressure is not causing tinnitus, there are a host of other issues that can cause tinnitus, and these can be addressed through working directly with audiologists and other healthcare professionals.

Successfully managing tinnitus involves more than simply finding the causes of tinnitus, as a robust tinnitus treatment plan is necessary to address all possible causes and successfully limit the distress associated with tinnitus and ease symptoms. Connecting with an audiologist or other hearing professional will result in achieving the best outcomes for issues related to the ears, and getting to the root of the causes of tinnitus. 

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