Pregnant woman suffering from pulsatile tinnitus rests on couch.

Is pulsatile tinnitus during pregnancy driving you up the wall? Pregnancy hormones can cause or make tinnitus worse. Here are some ways to help deal with the ringing in your ears when you’re pregnant.

Your lunch out with friends today became a battle to hear and understand over the persistent ringing in your ears. Your evening snuggled up on the couch with a good book was interrupted by that agonizing tone. You’re not even looking forward to going to bed tonight because you know that even getting a good night’s sleep has become dependent on whether you can get the white noise maker loud enough to drown it out.

Does Everyone Get This Ringing in the Ears While They’re Pregnant?

Studies show that as many as 33% of pregnant women suffer from pulsatile tinnitus, which is the sound of a rhythmic noise like a whooshing sound, compared to only 10% of non-pregnant women. For some, the onset is sudden and then it goes away as soon as the pregnancy is over. For others, the symptoms persist long after. For those who already suffered from tinnitus before getting pregnant, two-thirds of them state that the tinnitus became so much worse.

Let’s explore why so many women get tinnitus during pregnancy and what you can do to find relief.

What Is Pulsatile Tinnitus?

Pulsatile tinnitus is a symptom caused by an underlying condition. Those with tinnitus will experience distracting internal sounds superimposed over the everyday sounds of their environment. The symptoms can be very distracting and are often constant. They make conversation, working, relaxing, and sleeping difficult.

Pulsatile tinnitus can increase anxiety levels and even contribute to depression, which pregnant women are already more susceptible to due to the changes in the body’s chemistry.

Pregnant women with tinnitus may hear:

  • Ringing (common during pregnancy)
  • Thumping (very common during pregnancy)
  • Static
  • Hissing
  • Or other sounds

You may be wondering how someone could hear these things if they’re not “really there,” however, tinnitus is believed to be a function of the brain that may be generating the strange and persistent sounds, in addition to any health or hearing problems you may have that could also cause tinnitus, such as clogged ears or high blood pressure.

Most cases of tinnitus cannot be seen or heard by any professionals or their medical equipment. But it’s very real to those experiencing it, as you already know.

Pregnancy and Pulsatile Tinnitus

Pulsatile tinnitus is a very common form of tinnitus during pregnancy. This is when your ears become acutely aware of the blood moving through the vessels around your ears. You can hear it with each beat of your heart in a thumping sound.

This can also be a sign of elevated blood pressure and possibly preeclampsia, which can be very serious. For this reason, you should always share with your doctor that you’re hearing ringing in your ears while pregnant and describe in detail what it sounds like so any pre-existing problems can be addressed before they turn into something more serious.

Why Might Pulsatile Tinnitus Be Triggered During Pregnancy?

There are so many changes happening in the body during pregnancy that it becomes a perfect storm of factors that can lead to tinnitus:

Congestion Interfering with Hearing

Congestion is a common side effect during pregnancy. It can make your ears feel stuffy and full. That’s your Eustachian tubes filling up with fluid. This excess phlegm and fluid can impact how sound moves through the ear canal, which leads to tinnitus sounds in your ears. Before you take any congestion medicine, you should check with your doctor to find out what medications are safe during pregnancy.

Preeclampsia and Ringing in Your Ears

Preeclampsia only occurs after week 20 of your pregnancy and is detected by protein in urine and high blood pressure, the latter of which is a cause of pulsatile tinnitus. Preeclampsia often goes hand in hand with gestational hypertension, also known as pregnancy-induced hypertension, and affects 5-8% of all pregnancies. Your doctor will check for signs of preeclampsia during your routine visits, and if detected, will suggest changes to your diet and extra rest to treat the issue.

Pregnancy Hormones Can Cause Changes in Your Hearing

Hormones are primarily regulated in the hypothalamus, a smaller part of your brain. During pregnancy, the hypothalamus works overtime. It communicates with your body regarding how much hormone to produce and when to stop production.

Hormone changes can lead to intense emotion, anxiety, fatigue, and even depression. These are well-known influencers of the severity of ringing in ears while pregnant.

In addition to pregnancy, UK studies have shown that women are more likely to develop tinnitus during menopause. They might also have it while receiving hormone replacement therapy (HTR) or as a symptom of PMS.

Each of these situations demonstrates a hormonal link, and all of them can have a severe impact on your hearing.

Pregnancy Causes Changes in Blood Pressure

Problems with your blood pressure is one of the main causes of pulsatile tinnitus. Your elevated blood pressure can cause temporary ringing in ears while pregnant, which can become permanent even after pregnancy if left untreated. When the blood isn’t flowing freely through the vessels around your ear, it causes the ringing and whooshing sounds described earlier. You may also have an underlying problem with your blood vessels, such as atherosclerosis or malformation of your capillaries, which is exacerbated by your pregnancy.

Pregnancy Increases Your Environmental Awareness

This survival mechanism may go back to the days of the prehistoric humans or before. When you’re pregnant, your senses are often hyper-sensitive. Touch and hearing are often more pronounced. If you start hearing a ringing in your ears, it is possible that you may have always had tinnitus and only became aware of it because the sound got louder. If this is the case, then there is an underlying issue unrelated to pregnancy which is causing your hearing problems, so you may want to speak with a hearing specialist either during or after your pregnancy.

Antidepressants and Other Medication During Pregnancy or After Pregnancy

If pre- or post-partum depression is severe, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants. Tinnitus is a known side effect of some of these drugs. In addition, if you become sick or have an infection during pregnancy, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics – be aware that some of these medications can also lead to tinnitus.

If you experience tinnitus problems while taking antidepressants, you may want to see a therapist who is experienced in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), as this type of therapy has been shown to effectively treat tinnitus in many patients.

General Stress During Pregnancy

Tinnitus most often first appears in people who are under significant stress, which impacts functions like your blood pressure. Pregnancy can be a very stressful time, both emotionally and physically. The body is changing. It’s producing excess hormones as it tries to keep up. Stress has been shown to make tinnitus worse. If this is happening to you, consider meditation to help lower your blood pressure and stress hormones. You can look into mindfulness training, or as mentioned above, visit a CBT therapist to learn effective coping skills to deal with stress and your tinnitus.

Pregnant woman with ringing in her ears rests on couch.

The Effects of Pregnancy on Your Senses

It’s no surprise that pregnancy would have an effect on your ears. All of your senses are impacted by pregnancy, often becoming hyper-alert. Here are just a few ways your senses may change or become more acute during pregnancy:

  • Taste – Women often experience a “bad” taste in the mouth during the first trimester. Eating foods with vinegar or citrus can help.
  • Smell – Strong scents you normally find pleasant like a specific shampoo may make you queasy. Some foods like garlic and onions may do the same. Avoid scents that make you feel sick and get some aromatherapy scents that you enjoy.
  • Sight – Many women become slightly nearsighted during pregnancy. Hormone changes and fluid-retention may be the cause. If you have diabetes or have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, speak with your doctor about this symptom.
  • Touch – Your skin may become very sensitive, and parts of your body might swell or become extremely sore.

While these changes are all normal during pregnancy, you probably noticed that most of these changes typically go away after pregnancy – and you’re wondering how to stop or treat your pregnancy-related tinnitus.

Does the Ringing Stop After Pregnancy?

Many women say the tinnitus subsides after pregnancy as their hormone levels and other factors return to normal. However, it may persist in cases of postpartum depression or a very stressful parenting situation, either because of medication you’re taking, or high-blood pressure brought on by stress.

Others find that once they become aware of tinnitus, it never entirely goes away. If this happens, be sure to speak with a hearing specialist. There are ways to treat tinnitus, even when you are pregnant.

How to Get Tinnitus Relief and Reduce Pregnancy-Related Tinnitus

There is no cure for tinnitus. But some methods reduce tinnitus symptoms and their impact on your life. You should make sure to discuss any treatments with your doctor before attempting to address your tinnitus, and consult with your primary care physician, OB/GYN, and hearing specialist before trying any treatments.

Talk to Your OB/GYN

Your OB/GYN likely has a number of suggestions for treating or making your tinnitus more bearable. They’re here to help you with any symptoms you’re experiencing.

Ask your doctor to check your iron levels, especially if lightheadedness accompanies the ringing. You might have anemia (iron deficiency), which can be treated with changes to your diet. Your doctor may also help you better manage your blood pressure.

See a Hearing Specialist

If your OB/GYN’s suggestions aren’t helping, consider seeing a hearing expert. You may need a referral for insurance to cover it. Hearing specialists can help you find tinnitus relief during pregnancy that won’t affect the baby. They may be able to develop more custom solutions for your specific condition.

Relaxing, Meditating and Clearing Your Mind Helps Relieve Tinnitus

This heading may have you screaming at the top of your lungs, “How can I relax with this ringing in my ears?” We get it, it’s not easy. But remember, stress makes tinnitus louder. Even a small reduction in stressful feelings can help.

Relax any way you can safely do so while pregnant. Try exercise, meditation, reading, yoga, or doing things you enjoy. These are things that have been shown to help in some studies. Always talk to your doctor regarding exercise routines and supplements during pregnancy.

Focus on the positive and try to redirect your thoughts if they become negative to reduce stress spirals.

Try a Sound Machine

How about the sound of a peaceful creek running over a bed of rocks? Doesn’t that sound nice? Or you might like the constant chug-a-chug-a-chug of a train moving down the tracks. Sound machines typically produce 10 or more ambient sounds, so it’s easy to find one that helps drown out the noise so you can sleep or relax.

Sound machines can help distract the brain so that you are no longer aware of your tinnitus, which usually becomes worse at night since there aren’t any other sounds competing for your attention.

Speak with a Therapist

This is not to suggest that tinnitus is a mental illness. It’s much more complex than that. But stress, anxiety, and depression can make tinnitus worse. Speaking with someone helps you get tinnitus relief during pregnancy.

Get Sound Therapy

Sound therapy is a method where you train the brain not to hear the tinnitus. This kind of cognitive therapy has been shown to help tinnitus and has no adverse effects when you are pregnant.

Consider a Hearing Aid to Help with Tinnitus

In extreme cases, especially if the tinnitus persists after you have the baby, you can wear an ear device or a hearing aid, which cancels out the sound in the affected ear.

Also see Take on Tinnitus: 7 Steps to Address Ringing in Your Ears.

You don’t have to suffer from this condition. Talk to a hearing specialist about other treatment options.

Page medically reviewed by Kevin St. Clergy, Audiologist, on September 18, 2019.

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