Why our Ears Hurt after Running
In the 21st Century, keeping fit has become a way of life for many. Daily gym and sports club memberships are commonplace. Getting that extra cardio while running is also another method of keeping fit.
Just when you are winding down your exercise, you begin to feel some sharp pain in your ear. You do not know exactly why ears hurt after running, but you do not want to give up your greatest pastime either. So why do ears hurt after running?
We have selected informative pointers that can answer this question for you. Let’s go through them, shall we?
Reasons why our ears hurt after running
You do not have to panic when your ears start hurting right after you exercise. You may experience this pain, especially during the cold seasons. The changes in temperature and pressure lead to certain events happening within your body that lead to the ear pain.
Here are a couple of pointers:
1. Blood Vessel Constriction
Our blood vessels are very susceptible to changes in air pressure and temperature. Working out at high altitudes or during the cold weather can cause blood vessel constriction. This leads to extreme pain in and around your ear area.
When blood vessels constrict, they reduce the amount of blood flowing into your ears. We know that the blood is used as a transport mechanism for the body in supplying organs with nutrients such as oxygen, while also carrying away carbon dioxide.
Since less blood is flowing into the ears, there is an accumulation of oxygen in your ear drums. The oxygen builds up leads to pressure build up within your ear, and consequently ear pains. Any movement from your part amplifies the ear pain as well.
2. A Punctured Eardrum
Our ear drums are made from fragile tissue, much like our skin. Any tiny tear or rupture could lead to a multitude of problems that can send you running to the ENT doctor. But how do ear drums get ripped in the first place?
The function of the eardrum is to vibrate when exposed to different sounds, enabling you to discern and hear sound effectively. Deafening sounds, rapid air pressure changes, the presence of foreign bodies within the ear or ear infections can cause your eardrum to tear.
If you are unlucky enough to experience either of the eardrum-tearing causes we have mentioned, you may experience ear pains while exercising. The nerves on the ear drum are working overtime to let you know there is a huge problem brewing up within you.
Moving your head to and fro changes the internal pressure in your ear, causing your eardrum to vibrate in its inflamed condition. Sweat could also find its way into your ear, and the dissolved salts in the sweat reach your ear drum and fire up unimaginable pains.
3. Listening to music using earbuds
We all like that extra energy that hits us when we listen to music while working out. The music urges you to go faster, for longer periods of time for a stronger you. Not everybody prefers using headphones to earbuds since the former keeps getting in the way of your exercise.
For this reason, earphones are more traditional. They can easily fit into your ears and can be tucked away such that your exercise routine flows smoothly. However, do not make a mistake of selecting the wrong earbud size for your workout, as this also leads to ear aches.
If you go for an earbud that is too small, it will bounce and jiggle around your ear and cause skin irritation. Also, if you get an earbud that is too large, they press uncomfortably onto your ear canal. Both instances lead to your ears hurting while working out.
To avoid this hassle, make sure to choose comfortable, and size-appropriate earbuds that easily fit into your ear canal. You can also choose earbuds that have a curved, plastic extension that rests above your ears.
4. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD occurs when stomach acids flow back into the esophagus. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. Since the ear, nose, and throat are connected, GERD can lead to a multitude of problems such as a sore throat, ear pains and coughing.
The ear pains caused by GERD are due to the resulting ear infections. Studies have shown that about 40% of individuals that experience heartburn may also experience ear infections after running. The resulting ear infection leads to chronic ear pains.
How does this happen? Your movements while running will cause the stomach acids to splash and slosh within your stomach, and up through your esophagus tract. The stomach acids that are in your esophagus can just as easily reach your inner ear while you are running.
5. Tightening of the jaws and shoulders while running
Most people tend to clench their jaws while exercising. You could do this while either lifting weights or running on the treadmill. You may also tend to have tense shoulders while working out too. Both these actions are counterproductive.
The tightening of the jaws more often than not leads to headaches and earaches. You may end up experiencing Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ). TMJ will cause your jaw muscles to become sore and consequently leads to increased sensitivity of the Eustachian tubes.
Tense shoulders affect your sternocleidomastoid muscles (SCM) that connect your shoulders to the lump behind your ear, leading to ear and jaw aches.
6. Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD)
The Eustachian tube is a ventilation tube that connects your middle ear to the back of your nose. Any blockage in your Eustachian tube could lead to unbalanced air pressure on either side of your eardrum.
Since the Eustachian tube is blocked, no air can get into the middle ear and the pressure in the Eustachian tube drops. The greater atmospheric pressure acting on the opposite side of the ear drum pushes the eardrum inwards. From this position, your eardrum cannot vibrate as it should, leading to chronic inner ear pains.
One cause of ETD could be tissue engorgement that is as a result of increased blood supply to tissues, during exercising. The tissue engorgement causes the Eustachian tube lining to swell, leading to the blockage of the Eustachian tube.
7. Other various reasons
If you are not familiar with any of the mentioned causes of ear pains, here are other potential causes:
1. Ear infections caused by any other factor other than GERD.
3. Migraines and mild headaches experienced after running that may lead to earaches.
4. The presence of foreign bodies within the ear, such as small insects.
How to prevent and handle ear pain
Prevention is better than cure. Here are some tips you need to adhere to as you prepare to run to make ear pains a vice of the past.
1. If you are running in cold weather, invest in a simple headband. You can use this headband to cover your ears, while also holding in your ear buds as you run. Your ears will be shielded from the biting cold in this manner.
2. If you own an earplug, you can use it in place of the headband instead.
3. If you are experiencing a ruptured eardrum, lay off exercising for a few days to allow your injured eardrum to heal. If the pain persists, please consult your ENT doctor immediately.
4. Avoid overstimulation of the eardrum by listening to music at safe volumes. Music that is too loud can end up rupturing your eardrum.
5. Eat a low carbohydrate diet before exercising if you suffer from Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). The low carb diet reduces bacterial overgrowth and low stomach acid.
6. Practice running while lowering your jaw. The relaxed jaw muscles will inhibit the occurrence of Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ).
While you are at it, you can also relax your shoulder muscles while running. This will, in turn, relax the sternocleidomastoid muscles (SCM), leading to less ear and jaw aches.
7. Visit your ENT doctor to get the appropriate medical attention for Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD). There are some cases of mild ETD that do not need any medical treatment, just patience.
8. If the ear pain persists, take the anti-inflammatory drugs prescribed by your ENT doctor. For ear infections, your ENT doctor may prescribe some antibiotics as treatment.
9. If there is a presence of a foreign object within your ear, have your physician appropriately extract it using specialized tools. You can accidentally nick your eardrum while attempting to remove the foreign object.
We trust that this article has helped you understand the different causes of ear pain after running. If you can pinpoint one cause that you are familiar with, then this article was not published in vain.
There are some steps you can take to prevent and treat your ear pains. It could be as easy as investing in a pair of earplugs, or as daunting as visiting your ENT doctor for specialized treatment.
Our body is designed to feel some pain when things go south. It is in your best interest to respond quickly and appropriately to these signs and symptoms. Seek appropriate medical advice for treatment.