When you're working out, chances are you aren't paying much attention to your ears — unless they are suddenly plugged. The delicate structures of your inner ears are sensitive to changes in air pressure resulting from weather, altitude and breathing difficulties.
If your ears are plugged when you exercise, you'll probably be able to work through it even though it may be uncomfortable. You may also be able to remedy the problem with a simple change in your breathing pattern.
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
Your Eustachian tube runs between your throat and middle ear to keep out excess fluid and air pressure buildup. These tubes automatically open with swallowing, sneezing and yawning, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Eustachian tubes can become plugged from allergies, a cold or significant changes in air pressure. Symptoms include a full feeling in your ears, popping or clicking sensations, muffled hearing, and might cause pain. It can also cause ringing in the ears or balance issues.
Ear Pressure and Exercise
Ear plugging occurs most often during resistance-training exercises. This condition is sometimes informally referred to as exercise-induced Eustachian tube dysfunction. Compared with aerobic activities, resistance training requires periods of deep breaths or straining during which you may hold your breath.
The breath is the key to understanding why your ears get plugged. The ears are connected to your breath through the Eustachian tube behind the nose. If an air bubble sneaks into this tube and creates an imbalance in ear pressure, your ears feel plugged.
Read more: My Ears Pop When I Exercise Hard
The Valsalva Maneuver
During strength training, you may inadvertently hold your breath as you strain to lift the weights. The name for this breathing style is the Valsalva maneuver. Your inhale is typical, but your exhale occurs against closed lips and a closed throat.
The air has to go somewhere, and since it cannot escape from your lips it may travel into the ears. The Eustachian tube absorbs what it can, but the rest presses on your ear drum and your ears feel plugged, blocked or full.
Take a Drink
The easiest way to release the buildup of ear pressure is to swallow. You can try dry swallowing, but you may have more success if you take a drink of water. If swallowing does not help, try yawning to open up the tubes and release the pressure.
A third way to eliminate ear pressure is to gently pinch your nose and force the air through your nostrils as if trying to blow your nose. Repeated attempts may be necessary to release the pressure.
Keep It Clean
The way to avoid ear plugging during exercise is to be aware of your breathing. Even if you do not lift weights but use your body as resistance — during pushups, for example — you must still ensure a proper breathing pattern.
Avoid holding your breath throughout the movement. Exhale as you move against gravity, which is the hardest part of the exercise. Inhale as you move with gravity, which is the easier portion of the exercise.
Read more: Ringing in the Ears After Exercise