When I run or exercise at a very high intensity, sometimes my ears feel like they get plugged or start to ring. I have a history of passing out (haven’t passed out in a while, thank God) so I usually just try and slow it down until I feel back to normal. However, in the past week or so two of my other friends complained of this same thing happening to them! I have done a little research, and these are a few of the causes I have found in increasing order of severity:
Exercise-Induced Eustachian Tube Dysfunction
According to Dr. Moser from WebMD, when you exercise and your blood vessels become dilated around your eustachian tubes (inner ear tubes) from the increased blood flow, they can malfunction and cause muffled sounds. If the eustachian tubes are squeezed or locked in the open postion (like when you swallow), you may hear sounds as echos. Dr. Moser says this usually goes back to normal once you decrease your intensity.
Common Cold, Allergies, and Altitude
LiveStrong says that blocked ears can be caused from blocked eustachian tubes in addition to a few other factors. When you have a cold, your nasal cavities become inflamed and you feel stuffy. These nose cavities connect with your eustachian tubes and you may feel like your ears become blocked as well. You can try and relieve this with a decongestant before you exercise, or better yet, get some rest! Allergies also cause swelling in your throat and nose membranes and affect your inner ear functions just like a cold.
Altitude is a major factor of ear blockage. A change in just 8 or 9 feet can really affect your ears. Think about diving to the bottom of a pool and how your ears start to pop. This sensation can also happen while running or biking in differing altitudes (especially while descending, since air pressure increases as you go down). Your ears try to compensate by equalizing the pressure and sometimes end up blocked or muffled. To fix this, try swallowing, yawning, chewing gum (don’t choke!), or pinching your nose and blowing (be very careful with this one).
Strenuous Exercise and Resulting Hearing Loss
This article is from Hearing Loss Help in response to people who claim to lose hearing for a temporary time while they exercise and say the sensation lasts for several hours afterward. Dr. Neil attributes this hearing loss to a ruptured inner ear membrane due to strenuous exercise or a blow to the head. This can be temporary and heal on its own, or it can cause more permanent hearing loss.
He says some people also suffer from a more serious and recently-discovered condition called Large Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome (LVAS), in which the building pressure in your head from exercise pushes a lymphatic sac back to your inner ear, causing hearing loss. However, this has not been proven and studies are showing that the condition is a genetic defect, not very common, and it may be treated through therapy or surgery.
Have you ever had this happen to you while you were running or exercising? How do you fix it?