Ever get a sudden ringing tone in one ear, along with temporary hearing loss, and wonder if this is a transient ischemic attack?

A TIA can cause numerous sudden-onset symptoms.

Symptoms of a Transient Ischemic Attack

• You may already know what the more common or classic signs are, which include sudden onset of facial paralysis, slurred speech, double vision, limb weakness or paralysis, feeling heavy on one side and confusion.

• Less commonly described symptoms include sensory changes including taste in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, difficulty speaking (finding the right words) and dizziness.

But can ringing in the ears (tinnitus) be caused by a TIA?

“Ringing” is a rather broad way to describe the sound that most tinnitus sufferers experience: a steady, very high pitched frequency or tone. It may have a hissing quality.

There are different kinds of tinnitus (phantom sounds with an internal rather than external source that only the patient hears), such as pulsatile, crickets or chirping, tinkling, swooshing or whooshing, gurgling or even the sound of frying bacon.

But there’s also a such thing as a transient unilateral (one side) tinnitus that comes on suddenly, as out of the blue as any TIA symptom.

Features of Benign Transient Ringing in One Ear

• Sudden onset in one ear
• No known or apparent trigger
• Not subtle but not loud, but can be described as prominent
• Steady tone, non-fluctuating
• Not super high but not low
• Accompanied by hearing loss in that ear
• Episode typically lasts several to 20 seconds

This phenomenon is a “brief piercing high frequency ringing (random neural firings) that goes away quickly and is not pathological,” points out Rachel Raphael, M.A., CCC-A, who’s an audiologist with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

Many people experience this brief, one-ear ringing along with its transient hearing loss (the ringing drowns out external noise).

Here is what neuroanatomy.ca states:

• “The more typical duration for a TIA is about 10 minutes.”
• “A TIA is a neurological deficit lasting less than 24 hours.”

If you’ve been fearing that those episodes of ringing or tinnitus in one ear plus hearing loss lasting just seconds are a transient ischemic attack, ask yourself why these never last 10 minutes, let alone a full hour or two (as is the case for some TIA symptoms).

Many TIAs last a few minutes. The ringing and hearing loss in one ear lasts what, 20 seconds tops—every single time.

The site then states:

“It should be noted that isolated symptoms of dizziness, dysequilibrium, tinnitus and drop attacks are generally not due to TIA.”

The American Family Physician site states:

Symptoms that generally are not suggestive of TIA include generalized weakness, confusion, loss of consciousness, tinnitus, dysphagia, headache, eye pain, and chest pain.”

AAFP.com continues: “It is important to note that the presence of common mimic symptoms does not exclude TIA from diagnosis; however, mimics should be considered in the absence of concurrent focal deficits.”

Notice that whenever you get that sudden ringing in one ear with the hearing loss that there’s never neurological symptoms with it such as one-side paralysis, one-side facial numbness, blindness in one eye, difficulty speaking or other classic TIA signs.

If you’re worried that a temporary ringing or tinnitus in the ear is being caused by a TIA, the type of doctor you should see is a neurologist.

Transient ischemic attacks, regardless of the symptoms they cause, are neurological episodes.

Rachel A. Raphael specializes in clinical audiology and hearing aid dispensing. She helps in the diagnosis of hearing loss, tinnitus, dizziness and vestibular pathology in adults and children.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: Shutterstock/Dora Zett