Why Do My Ears Hurt When I Run?

why do my ears hurt when i run

If you have been struggling with ear pain during or after your runs, there are several things which may be behind your difficulty.

Stomach Issues Can Affect Your Ears

Our bodies operate on a delicate balance of homeostasis. When that balance is disrupted, the effects can be far-reaching, such as your stomach affecting your ears. One highly impactful stomach problem which can affect your ears is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

For those who suffer from GERD often have a variety of accompanying symptoms, such as:

Stomach acid backflow – A healthy stomach will close off the ring of muscles above the stomach to lock in the contents of the stomach. For those suffering from GERD, this ring of muscles does not engage, and stomach contents escape.

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) – When stomach acid and other stomach contents reach the esophagus due to GERD, this is called LPR. The acid in the esophagus can create chest pain, heartburn, and sore throats.

Also, as the esophagus is connected to our sinus cavity, the backflow of acid can make its way to our ears and cause repeated ear infections.

Runners who have GERD are more likely have an increase of symptoms as they run as the body’s energy is diverted away from the stomach and directed to the lungs, leg muscles, and cardiovascular system.

Some simple things you can do to ease some of your gastrointestinal distress are:

  • Avoid foods high in protein and fat prior to a run.
  • Lower the intensity of your workout.
  • Take an antacid before the run.

ears hurt after running

Ruptured Eardrum Awareness On A Run

Another potential cause of ear pain while running is a ruptured eardrum. An eardrum becomes ruptured when minuscule holes or tears appear in the thin membrane of your eardrum. This damage can be due to a variety of things, such as:

  • Punctured by foreign objects like a cotton swab.
  • Head trauma which disrupts the structure of your ear.
  • Noise damage, such as gunshots or other explosive sounds.
  • Ear infections which cause a buildup of fluid which eventually rip through the eardrum.
  • Excess outside pressure from diving in deep water or when flying on a plane.

Due to the small size of these tears, it is possible for them to go unnoticed unless you do something to irritate them. Unfortunately, it is easy for a runner to irritate a ruptured eardrum.

As you sweat during a run if any of that sweat reaches in the ear to the eardrum, you can experience very sharp and intense pain in your ear.

Also, as running causes your blood flow rates to increase and other bodily functions to work harder, it can create more pressure in your inner and middle ear. This pressure can cause a lot of pain to the area surrounding the ruptured eardrum.

While a ruptured eardrum can heal on its own within 6-8 weeks, you may need to see a doctor if you are struggling with repeated ear infections. Not only are these infections painful but repeated infections can scar the eardrum and result in hearing loss.

Running Causes Blood Vessels To Constrict

To keep blood moving to essential areas during our running workouts, blood vessels connected to non-muscle tissues undergo vasoconstriction. This term means these blood vessels constrict themselves, dramatically lowering the amount of blood which reaches non-muscle tissue like your ears.

Runners may not notice the results of this vasoconstriction. The effects often only become apparent under a few circumstances:

  • Cold weather – The extremities which have a lower amount of blood flowing will be more vulnerable to cold weather, which can cause them to ache, including your ears.
  • High altitude – For runners training at higher altitudes, the pressure from the higher elevation can put a strain on the ears. This effect is magnified by having less oxygen delivered to the inner and middle ear, yet the air outside of the eardrum is still oxygen-rich, creating painful unequal pressure on your ears.
  • Long distance – While there is no mile marker for when your ears will hurt, several hours of vasoconstriction can become painful for your ears. Often, only runners who participate in marathons and ultramarathons run long enough to experience ear pain due to vasoconstriction outside of the above conditions.

To help your body recover faster from exercise-induced vasoconstriction, make sure you properly rehydrate your body.

Earbuds Can Be The Source Of Discomfort

ears hurt when running

Many runners enjoy running listening to media as they workout, particularly music as it can help you maintain the correct pace. It can be easy to turn the volume up too high and impact your ears, but no one has been able to define exactly what volume crosses the line from enjoyment to ear pain.

If you aren’t sure if your media volume is too loud, you can try a couple of experiments.

Mid-run, take your earbuds out – If you feel your ears are muffled, you likely have your volume too loud. Run without them in your ears for 5-10 minutes then put them back at a lowered volume.

Repeat until you find the volume level which makes your ears more comfortable and less impacted.

Compare your volume to surrounding sounds – Around 85 decibels (dB), you can begin damaging your hearing. This damage can be quite painful but in a slow, aching way, rather than sharp.

Due to the low-level pain, some of us runners may ignore it. But if your volume can drown out sounds like traffic, lawn mowers, and other loud sounds, your volume is too loud.

Lastly, if you are listening to the correct media volume, then the problem may lay with the overall shape of your earbuds. Ear openings come in all shapes and sizes so that the standard earbuds may be a bad fit for your ears. Too big earbuds can cause earaches as it puts too much pressure on your ear shell and ear canal.

You can try out other earbuds to find ones which are more comfortable for your ear or investigate custom earbuds. Both options are widely available.

If you have been experiencing ear pain during or after your run, I recommend you work your way through this list of possible causes so you can determine what the issue is for you.

Kevin JonesAuthor Bio: Kevin Jones
Kevin Jones has mastered a busy lifestyle with work and fitness combined with family life. He writes offering solutions for personal fitness and time management as well as keeping families fit together by utilizing activities and diet. You can read more of Kevin’s writings by connecting with him online; LinkedInTwitter

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