Any illness can throw your workout schedule into disarray, but inner ear infections can disrupt an element essential to many physical activities: your sense of balance. Complex activities rely on feedback from your inner ear to give you positional awareness. Without that sense, you could become dizzy or susceptible to falls. A significant infection may also leave you feeling feverish or drained and unable to perform a strenuous workout. Talk to your doctor before exercising with an inner ear infection.
The three tiny loops in your inner ear that make up your vestibular system lose their efficacy when you have an inner ear infection. Each loop measures motion along a different axis; your brain then synthesizes this input with information from your eyes. Without adequate support from your vestibular system, your body cannot keep its balance as well. You may think of walking and jogging as natural motions that require little effort, but without an intact sense of balance, you'll find that they're more complex than you'd thought. If jogging becomes a challenge, try walking while your inner ear infection diminishes your sense of balance. If walking also leaves you listing to one side, hold off on exercise until your equilibrium returns.
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With balance disorders can come vertigo and motion sickness. When your eyes' perceptions don't match the input from your inner ear, you feel disoriented. If this mismatch continues, you could begin to feel nausea. If you're prone to motion sickness and have tried to read a book in a moving vehicle, you may recognize this uncomfortable phenomenon. Under normal circumstances, the motion of your body doesn't produce dizziness and motion sickness, but when your inner ear feeds your brain false signals that don't match what you see -- a strong possibility with a severe ear infection -- you could become nauseated just from physical activity.
When you have an infection, your body allocates resources to fighting it, leaving you feeling easily tired and listless. A moderate workout may give you energy when you're well, but if you're fighting off an illness, you may not have the stamina to finish your typical exercise regimen. If you're used to jogging a 6-mile track, you could find yourself halfway around the track with little energy to return. Modify your exercise plans to accommodate your inner ear infection by choosing routes that keep you closer to home so you'll have less travel time if you must cut your workout short.
Pressure and Pain
An inner ear infection can cause significant pressure and pain that worsens as you move your head. Exercise routines that require a good deal of head movements or that involve jarring impact can exacerbate the pain and pressure of an inner ear infection. If you swim, water pressure can cause intense pain when you dip your head more than a foot or 2 below the water.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.