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Hearing loss from exercising


Do you often suffer from hearing loss during or after exercising? In this article I’ll explain the possible reasons for this and what you can do to help avoid it.

Firstly, exercise in general is of great benefit when it comes to your health and has in fact been shown to improve one’s hearing and can also prevent or reduce hearing loss as we age. Cardiovascular exercise increases blood circulation and oxygen delivery which helps neural pathways including that of the cochlea in the inner ear. Your brain also translates what we hear into meaningful sound and an increase in oxygen to the brain improves this process.

However the type of exercise and the amount of exertion you place on your body can also place great stress on our hearing. Of course if you have an underlining issue or genetic disposition then further stress to your hearing will not help it. Other reasons that could affect your hearing during exercise could be that you have an infection, you’re taking certain medication or from the aging process (you’re getting older).

Such activities such as lifting heavy weights, CrossFit, endurance events, very high intensity exercises (although for some this may not be a problem), can all cause exercise induced hearing loss. Plus the noises at some gyms, such as loud music and crashing weights can create sharp or constant noises beyond the safe decibel limits of your ear.

What can happen to the ear when exercising?

There are several things that can happen to your ears when exercising.

Your ears need good blood flow to supply nutrients and oxygen to keep its hair cells of the inner ear and nerve connections healthy. When this doesn’t happen they can become damaged and although most people think that hearing loss is due to them becoming blocked, this isn’t always the case. The feeling of your ears becoming blocked is just the way that your brain interprets the loss of its ability to hear due to not receiving the correct signal due to actual damage to your ears.

Interesting to note that you can also occasionally get a lack of blood flow to the ears as blood is directed to your working muscles, which can lead to sudden and temporary hearing loss.

Another reason for hearing loss can be down to increased pressure created through strenuous exercise. Straining and holding your breath when lifting weights or doing high resistance exercises can create pressure build up in the inner and middle ear and to your brain leading to damage.

These issues include Exercise-induced Eustachian tube dysfunction, where the Eustachian tubes which help drain fluid and release air from the ears can become inflamed and then the air flow can become blocked causing popping, aural fullness and sometimes pain. Exercise-induced Eustachian tube dysfunction gives you a feeling of being under water and having a clogged ear with muffled or even ringing in the ear.

Another issue from increased pressure is Perilymphatic fistula (PLF), which is where a small tear in the membrane between the inner and middle ear occurs, which then allows fluid to leak into the ear cavity. These tears can sometimes repair themselves, however this isn’t always the case and could actually create permanent damage.

One other issue from increased pressure worth mentioning is a malfunction within the inner ear called Large Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome (LVAS) which leads to sudden hearing reduction and balance issues.

Signs that you may have hearing damage can include, pain in the ear, sounds around you are muffled, the ears feel blocked/clogged, you feel dizzy and/or unbalanced or find it hard to understand what someone is saying, with many of the these symptoms not clearing within 24 hours.

What can you do to protect your hearing during exercise?

  • Firstly, you want to do the right type of exercise. Do aerobic type of exercises that are low impact and low to moderate intensity activities such as walking, jogging, bike riding, and swimming. These help to increase cardiovascular health which has the ability to maintain or even improve your hearing. This is down to the increased blood flow to the ears, supplying much needed nutrients and reduced blood pressure, as well as helping remove waste. If you are getting hearing loss during or after your workout, look to reduce the intensity or weight used or change to a different form of exercise.
  • Avoid high impact or contact sports.
  • If doing weight lifting or strength type workouts, stop straining and concentrate more on the weight, your breathing, technique and the way your muscles feel when lifting heavier objects. If you really want to do resistance type workouts, start slow and gradually increase the intensity if you’re looking to progress. If you want to just build muscle then you don’t need to lift heavy, so, reduce the weight you lift, go low to moderate intensity.
  • Whatever exercise you do, avoid holding your breath under tension and straining (see more on that subject here).  Practice good breathing throughout your exercise routine.
  • Wear hearing protection if loud music is being played in your gym. Don’t have the music too load if wearing personal ear phones.
  • Stop working out if you feel pain, become dizzy, unbalanced, any loss of hearing in either or both ears, including muffled, blocked, congested, clogged feelings or ringing in your ears. (See about tinnitus here).
  • Finally, go and see a hearing specialist and get your hearing tested if you suspect you may have hearing loss or are suffering from pain in the ear.