“Just like many other things in life, we all need to be cautious when it comes to exercise. Even highly trained athletes in all sports, can take unnecessary risks. One rule of thumb is that if we experience pain or other symptoms such as ringing in our ears, our bodies are warning us of a potential problem. We have to have faith in ourselves when we exercise, which has two parts. One is the belief that we can do something. Second, we have to trust what we do is safe.” - Drew Sutton, MD, Board-Certified Otolaryngologist
Getting in a workout consistently is one of the best ways to support your health in the long term. Physical exercise is one of the best preventative measures you can take on for avoiding long-term health complications. The action of working out places a healthy amount of stress on your muscles, cardiovascular system, and skeletal system.
While there is a benefit from placing a healthy amount of stress on the body, there is such a thing as placing too much strain on the body through exercise. Unhealthy strain can injure muscles, ligaments, bones, and even the ears in rare cases.
Below is a closer look at the relationship between a ringing in the ears after a workout and other aspects of your hearing health you should be on the lookout for.
Exercise and Ear Health
As stated previously, healthy exercises place what is widely considered good stress on the body. The micro-tearing of muscles by working out helps facilitate muscle growth, and strain placed upon the bones with weight-bearing exercise signals them to grow stronger bone networks.
When done within safe limits, exercise is also believed to help facilitate several benefits as you get older. One study even found that lower levels of physical activity were associated with higher rates of hearing impairment.
While exercise is undoubtedly good for the body, overdoing it can be detrimental like anything in life. For hearing health, this mainly pertains to high strain activities that can cause ear injury.
Higher Risk for Barotrauma
If you have ever lifted something heavy, you may have noticed that your body seems to hold its breath and bear down. This movement is widely considered an improper technique and actually can cause internal trauma known as barotrauma.
Barotrauma is trauma sustained due to high pressures. When you are holding your breath and squeezing, it causes bodily pressures to spike. In the case of the ear, the high pressure can lead to a rupture of the inner ear and subsequent leakage of fluid into the middle ear, known as a perilymphatic fistula.
A perilymphatic fistula is a condition where the cochlea begins to leak into the middle ear. The leak is caused by increased intracranial pressure that may be present when you are powerlifting and straining.
Generally, if you become very dizzy, have muffled hearing, or even suddenly get tinnitus with no prior symptoms before working out, you should seek medical expertise. Perilymphatic fistula can respond well to treatment, so getting attention sooner rather than later is always better.
It Could Potentially Worsen Pulsatile Tinnitus
Another potential con of exercising is that it can exacerbate the symptoms of a condition known as pulsatile tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus is a form of tinnitus that is characterized by a pulsating and rhythmic phantom tone that an individual hears despite there not being a sound in the immediate environment.
Pulsatile tinnitus has several potential causes, but when it comes to working out, blood flow turbulence occurs near the ear. Blood flow in a healthy individual is fairly laminar and is free of restriction. A restriction or partial blockage can cause turbulent blood flow.
One of the proposed causes of pulsatile tinnitus is some sort of restriction in the blood vessels near the ear, or there is a malformation from birth. Either way, an increase in cardiac output can exacerbate these symptoms by making tinnitus worse.
High Noise Exposure
Going to the gym can be a great way to relieve some stress and get in a good workout, but at the same time, they can be places that have excessive noise exposure. The human body is fairly tolerable to sound levels below 70dB, but much more than that figure, and the ears can risk becoming injured and sustaining a lasting hearing loss.
Loud music and weights crashing in a gym can sometimes be just as bad in the noise level as a construction site. Because of this, you may want to consider getting hearing protection if you find that your gym is overly loud.
Many people also tend to listen to music as they work out, and many crank up the volume to drown out the sounds of a loud gym, but this could contribute to noise-induced hearing loss if you’re not careful.
Rather than turning up your headphone volume, you should find more isolating or noise-canceling headphones to allow you to listen at a safer volume level while still being able to remove the auditory distractions in the gym.
Benefits to the Ear
The main benefits surrounding exercise and ear health are that the body can have optimal circulatory health and deliver oxygen, nutrients, and fluids more effectively throughout the body. This means from a hearing health perspective that the components of the ear are taken care of from a cardiovascular standpoint.
Benefits to the Brain
In addition to supporting the ears themselves, living a generally healthy lifestyle that includes physical exercise can help to support a healthy mind.
The brain is a highly specialized and resource-intense organ as it needs to accommodate thousands of neurons firing per second. Working out consistently and eating well can help to promote optimal blood flow and fluid flow.
Many people think that hearing health mainly has to do with the ears but in reality, the brain is perhaps more important for healthy hearing. The ears help to convert sound waves into usable nerve impulses, but after that, the brain takes over where it interprets the sound for pitch, loudness, and even direction. This all occurs in a subsection of the brain known as the auditory cortex.
Everything from speech recognition to simple pitch identification goes through the auditory cortex and then to the rest of your brain.
What To Look Out For
On your health and wellness journey, you are most likely aware of all the things to look out for pertaining to muscle, joint, or bone health on your health and wellness journey. Knowing when a muscle is pulled, understanding when a joint may be injured, and other potential physical activity injuries is an important aspect of exercising responsibly.
While muscles, joints, and bones are certainly important, your ears are also important, and people should be aware of signs and symptoms of a potential hearing-based injury.
Head Injury Followed by Hearing Problems
There are several sports that could involve contact, and because of this, it isn’t uncommon for individuals to sustain a head injury every once in a while. Head injuries are certainly a cause for concern due to the potential for concussion, but these injuries can also impact the ears.
A head injury can impact the ears in many different ways and lead to problems in any part of the ear. A damaged eardrum, middle ear bones, or even a damaged cochlea can occur. If you become hard of hearing following an injury or are experiencing vertigo or tinnitus, it is important to seek medical attention.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
No matter what physical activity you perform, it is essential to be aware of hearing loss’s general signs and symptoms. The most notable symptom will be having a more challenging time hearing things in your immediate environment.
If you frequently ask people to repeat themselves or need subtitles for your favorite shows, it may indicate the beginnings of auditory decline.
What Can You Do About Hearing Loss
While hearing loss can be difficult to come to terms with, it ultimately isn’t the end of the world, and thanks to advancements in technology, there are ways you can gain back nearly all of your quality of life and hearing acuity.
Hearing aids are one of the best available options. Audien offers over-the-counter hearing aids at a price well under what you would find at the audiologist’s office. With two different models to choose from, you can find the option that best suits your needs and budget.
In summary, working out poses many benefits to your health, but it is also important to understand when working out can be detrimental. Experiencing a ringing in your ear after working out could be the result of many different things. This may be of concern, and it may be best for you to seek out an audiologist to rule out any more serious potential causes.