Can Exercise Cause Ear Damage, Hearing Loss, or Tinnitus

No one wants to think about the potential of ear damage from exercise, but it is a serious issue. It's important to know that there are many benefits of exercise for your health and well-being, but you should also be aware of the risks. Some physical activities can cause you to damage your ears and, in severe cases, even lead to hearing loss.

While the causes of tinnitus are not entirely understood, it has been proven that long-term exposure to loud noises over 85 decibels (dB) can induce hearing loss. Though this is a sound level most people would consider safe and one that is sometimes unavoidable, it does not mean that you should shrug off the potential for ear damage from recreational activities.

Exercise for Health

While participating in a variety of sports, such as swimming, football, or rock climbing can put your ears at risk for long-term problems like tinnitus and hearing loss, other seemingly harmless pastimes might do the trick as well. When you think about the idea of damaging your hearing in a single blow, it seems to be a ridiculous notion. However, many recreational activities can cause permanent damage when done incorrectly or excessively over long periods.

What are the Health Benefits of Exercise?

Regular exercise can help you reduce stress, increase energy level, improve your mood and sleep patterns, control weight and maintain a healthy heart. Exercise also reduces risk factors associated with many chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. As you can see, exercise can help greatly improve your quality of life.

Does Frequent or Intense Exercise Cause Ear Damage?

Exercise is generally thought of as healthy, but if you are not careful it can also lead to injury. If you experience ear pain, hearing loss, or tinnitus while exercising, the cause may be due to changes in air pressure during exercise and/or trauma from striking your head.

There are two main causes of exercise-related hearing loss. First, the air pressure inside your ear canal may not be able to keep up with the rate at which fluid drains out of it. Second, if you have excess mucus in your middle ear from an infection such as a swimmer's ear or allergies, there is more fluid to drain.

Exercise can cause ear damage and hearing loss in the following ways:

  1. Air pressure changes during exercise – As you exercise, your body requires more oxygen, and breathing becomes heavier. If you are not accustomed to vigorous physical activity, the amount of air breathed in may be so great as to create an imbalance of air pressure inside and outside the ears (or barotrauma). This can lead to ear pain and hearing loss. Swimmers and divers are exposed to these changes constantly, and in most cases do not experience any issues, but they may be more prone to ear injuries if the eustachian tubes are blocked or if earwax is present.
  2. Trauma – Exercise can also cause trauma to your ears when there is a hard blow to the ear or head. This can lead to dizziness, hearing loss, and tinnitus. Some activities that involve heavy blows include boxing, soccer, rugby football, and riding horses.
  3. Cardiovascular diseases – People who have cardiovascular problems are at risk of developing tinnitus when they exercise vigorously or participate in activities that put extra stress on the heart.
  4. Nasal allergies – Exercising when you have nasal congestion or a cold can irritate the ear, resulting in pain and hearing loss. When the Eustachian tubes are clogged, pressure builds up in the middle ear, causing pain and inflammation (otitis media).
  5. Ear infection – Activities like swimming, running, or doing jumping jacks can cause ear infections if you have a perforated eardrum.
  6. Excessive exercise – Doing too much exercising while you are hungover can put extra stress on the body and lead to tinnitus symptoms. Drinking alcohol damages the cells in the body, including the hair cells in the inner ear. As we age, most people will experience some hearing loss (presbycusis). Many factors contribute to hearing loss like genetics and noise exposure.
  7. Blood flow – Exercise improves blood circulation, which is good for overall health but it can also lead to tinnitus symptoms. Research has shown that the more blood flow to the inner ear, the higher the chance for hearing loss.

How the Gym Causes Hearing Loss?

This is about how the gym itself causes hearing loss.

Music – Most gyms play loud music so that people will work out harder and longer. This is great for business but not so great when you want to protect your hearing. The crackling sound (sounds like Rice Krispies) is an indication that the inner ear membranes are being overstimulated, which can lead to tinnitus.

Foam exercise mats – Most gym floors are made of soft foam that absorbs sound and creates a lot of extra melatonin in the body. This contributes to high-stress levels, which can lead to tinnitus symptoms.

Foam earplugs – If you use foam earplugs when lifting weights, they can compress and squish your eardrums from the insides, which can lead to a loss of hearing.

Dehydration – When you are dehydrated, it is very easy for your body to overwork itself during workouts, and this leads to the release of extra stress chemicals into your body that also contributes to tinnitus symptoms.

Lifting weights too fast – When you lift weights too fast, the muscles tend to tear, and this leads to a release of melatonin and adrenaline chemicals that contribute to tinnitus symptoms.

Signs That Your Workout is Damaging Your Ear

To help prevent hearing damage, let’s discuss the warning signs.

  • You feel ringing in your ears, buzzing in your head, or a sense of pressure after you exercise.
  • You have trouble hearing out of one or both ears after you work out.
  • You notice a loss of hearing in one or both ears.
  • You notice ringing in your ears and it lasts longer than 3 days.
  • If you experience any of these problems, stop working out immediately and consult with your doctor.
  • Even if you do not have tinnitus symptoms during workouts, if you are going to work out for more than 1 hour a day, you should wear earplugs to prevent yourself from getting tinnitus.

Prevent Workout-Related Hearing Loss

  • Buy customized earplugs and wear them whenever you are working out.
  • Stay away from headphones or earbuds for music while you exercise.
  • Workout quietly without any music in a comfortable environment where the background sound is low.
  • Wear hearing protection at all times, even when it's not silent around you.
  • Wear a helmet every time you ride a bicycle or motorcycle.
  • Do not wear headphones or earbuds for music during workouts longer than one hour.
  • If you experience pain or a headache during exercise, stop and take a break to rest your body. Be sure that your surroundings are not too loud. Take ibuprofen if the pain is severe. Remember to drink plenty of water (a cup every 15 minutes) before, during, and after your workout.
  • See your doctor if you experience symptoms such as ear pain, ringing in the ears, or dizziness that persists for more than a few days after an incident.

If you are exposed to loud noise during your workout or sports, it can cause serious damage to your ears and hearing. While you will not feel pain from the damage, if there is too much exposure to loud noises for a longer time, hearing loss will eventually develop.

Last Word

It is important to know that there are many ways you can protect your ears while exercising. These include the use of earbuds or protective gear like helmets and masks that cover the entire head. If this article has made you worry about potential hearing damage, please reach out to a qualified health professional for more information on how best to take care of yourself during exercise sessions. For now, we hope these tips helped understand what should be done before hitting the gym!