Q: Over the past few months I’ve developed a whooshing noise in my left ear that seems to be in time with my pulse. It’s very quiet and I notice it only when I’m in bed. Since it doesn’t bother me that much, is it OK to ignore it?
A: Tinnitus – hearing sounds when no external sound is present – is a common problem. Doctors never identify an underlying cause in most cases but it can be anything from a side effect of medication (eg, water tablets) to infection, vitamin B12 deficiency, wax or a tumour (rare), so it pays to be wary of new noises.
The following are red flags that should prompt further investigation: pulsatile tinnitus (a noise like yours that varies with your pulse); tinnitus associated with disturbed balance; one-sided tinnitus; tinnitus associated with neurological signs such as weakness or altered sensation; and tinnitus that is causing significant distress.
Yours is both one-sided and pulsatile and therefore you should book in to see your GP. It’s probably nothing to worry about, but it does need checking.
For more details on managing the condition, which can be very distressing, visit www.tinnitus.org.uk
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