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Why Do My Ears Hurt When I Exercise?

by
author image Krista Sheehan
Krista Sheehan is a registered nurse and professional writer. She works in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and her previous nursing experience includes geriatrics, pulmonary disorders and home health care. Her professional writing works focus mainly on the subjects of physical health, fitness, nutrition and positive lifestyle changes.
Why Do My Ears Hurt When I Exercise?
Ear pain during exercise may be caused by many factors. Photo Credit Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images

During exercise, pain in the knees, ankles, feet, hips and back is common for many people. But for other people, this pain occurs in the ears and causes a sharp earache. With a variety of potential causes, there is no easy answer for ear pain during exercise. If you suffer from exercise related earaches, consult your doctor to determine why your ears hurt when you exercise.

Blood Vessel Constriction

Most commonly experienced after running long distances, constriction of the blood vessels can lead to tremendous aching in the ears. The problem becomes particularly more evident when exercising in cold weather or at high altitudes. Whether caused by cold air, pressure changes or stress on the eardrums, the blood vessels supplying the ears often constrict. As a result, blood flow to the ear is reduced. Since oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged through the blood, oxygen may accumulate in the inner ears, causing excessive pressure. As this pressure grows, the ears often begin aching with severe pain as you exercise.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when stomach acids backflow into the esophagus. Considered a chronic digestive disease, the most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. However, the condition can also cause sore throat, chest pain, coughing and ear pain. If left untreated, GERD might even cause recurring ear infections. According to the HealthCentral website, approximately 40 percent of all patients with heartburn experience symptoms during exercise. During exercise, the contents of the stomach tend to slosh around. With this vigorous movement, it becomes much easier for the stomach contents to escape into the esophagus.

Ruptured Eardrum

A ruptured eardrum is a condition that occurs when small holes or tears appear in the thin tissue that separates your ear canal from your middle ear. In most cases, a ruptured eardrum is not caused by exercise. Common causes of ruptured eardrums include sudden air pressure changes, loud sounds, severe head trauma, ear infection or small objects shoved into the ear. If your eardrum has ruptured without your knowledge, exercising could worsen the condition. As your head moves around and your body’s circulation is increased, the ears experience higher amounts of pressure that irritate the eardrum. Additionally, any sweat that leaks into your ears can also trigger pain from a ruptured eardrum. Along with pain, additional symptoms include ringing in the ears, vertigo and drainage from the ear.

Music Earbuds

While exercising, many people listen to music to help pass the time. Although there are a wide variety of headphone styles available, earbuds are popular with their small and unobtrusive shape. However, when they sit inside the ears for too long, the earbuds may cause pain. If the earbuds are too small for your ears, they will bounce around and irritate the skin. On the other hand, large earbuds will place too much pressure on your ear canal. To avoid ear pain, opt for earbuds that fit comfortably in your ears without falling out easily. If possible, choose earbuds with a curved piece of plastic that rests over the top of your ears.

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