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Why Do My Ears Hurt After Running Or Exercise?

Ears are not usually a focal point for runners. We pay attention to our feet and legs and lungs. We’re used to having little aches and pains there after workouts – it’s a normal part of running. But ears? Sure enough, plenty of runners at least occasionally experience ear pain after running. If you’re someone who has ear pain after running, you might be wondering how in the world that happened. You get how you might have some discomfort in your legs because running works your lower body, but your ears?

In this article, we’ll cover solutions. We’ll discuss why your ears might hurt during or after running, as well as how to prevent it. No need to suffer ear pain anymore.

Reasons Why Your Ears Might Hurt After Running

We’re going to go through a list of reasons why your ears might hurt during or after a run. In order of most likely to least likely, you can go through the symptoms and causes and see if it describes you.

Incorrect Fitting Earbuds

This first one can be pretty easy to rule out. Do you listen to music when you’re running? If not, then you’re dealing with another problem. 

If you do, then try a quick test during your next run. Leave the earbuds at home. If everything feels good and there’s no pain, it’s probably the earbuds.

You can also think about whether the pain is worse when you’ve completed a longer workout or gone on a longer run, and that makes it more likely that it is due to earbuds that don’t fit correctly.

Once you’ve determined that you believe this is the issue, try some new earbuds and see if your problem is solved. There’s a good chance that it will be.

Cold Ears

This reason is another one that is easy to rule out. Is it hot outside? If so, then you are definitely not suffering from cold ears. However, if it’s freezing out there, or if the temperature isn’t super-cold but dropped lower than usual, cold ears might be a reason.

Again, you can also think about whether you have ear pain when you’re running on the treadmill or when it’s nice outside. If you don’t, your pain is likely due to cold ears. And all you have to do is get a good pair of earmuffs, a Buff, or a thick beanie that covers your ears and see if the problem goes away.

Tight Jaws

If the pain extends from your ear to other parts of your head like your teeth and neck, you might be suffering from tight jaws. Typically, this is due to stress or anxiety, so you might want to consider if you’ve been more stressed at work or home than usual. If so, this might be the reason for your ear pain.

Tight jaws can also be due to eating tough foods or chewing gum, so you might want to think about whether you’ve done that recently. If so, when your jaws become less tight, your ears will feel better.

Or, you might just be flexing your face when you run. Just as some runners will tighten up their shoulders or arms, you might be tensing your face and jaw. Shake it out, get loose, and see if that helps.

Ear Infection

Although ear infections are more common in children than in adults, they are not beyond the realm of possibility. This obviously can cause ear pain. If you’re someone who has a weakened immune system, you are a more likely candidate for an ear infection.

Additionally, if you suffer from allergies, are a smoker, or if you recently had a cold or the flu, you might be more susceptible to ear infections. And we all know that if you spend a lot of time in the water, you might develop swimmer’s ear, or an outer ear infection.

You don’t need to worry about seeing a doctor unless the infection has not gone away within three days, or if you experience other symptoms like a fever or disorientation. Your best bet for running might be to take the day off to rest.

Vasoconstriction

That’s a $20 word that means the constricting of blood vessels, and it’s similar to cold ears. 

If you’re someone who runs outside in negative temperatures in the winter, you may experience vasoconstriction, turning your ears red to restrict blood flow to the extremities.

All you need to do is make sure that you’re keeping your ears warmer when you’re outside. If the pain is persistent even with a hat on, think about shifting your workouts indoors until it warms up a little bit.

GERD

Weirdly, GERD, which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease or reverse acid reflux, can actually cause pain in your ears. It occurs when food and liquids go back up your throat because the esophagus does not want to handle the acid in the stomach.

If you’re having ear pain in addition to bad heartburn, you’re likely suffering from GERD. Or if you feel like you have a sore throat. Or if your breath smells much worse than usual.

If your ear pain gets especially bad after you’ve had acidic food, then you’re almost certainly dealing with GERD. The simple solution is to avoid acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus. Non-acidic foods that might trigger reflux are garlic and mint.

Ruptured Eardrum

This is the most unlikely reason that you’re dealing with ear pain, but it’s a possibility. If nothing else above makes sense, you might want to visit a doctor to see if you have a ruptured eardrum.

It occurs when there is a hole or a tear in the tissue that separates your ear canal from your eardrum. If you’re dealing with temporary hearing loss, it’s almost certainly a ruptured eardrum.

Ruptured eardrums can be caused by extremely loud sounds or head trauma. If any of these occurred to you during a run, you should see a doctor immediately to diagnose the problem.

How to Prevent Ear Pain When Running

Depending on what ailment you believe you have, you can prevent ear pain in different ways. 

First, make sure you’re using correctly-sized earbuds. Try using over-the-ear or bone conduction earbuds that don’t sit inside your ears. If you can’t invest in a new pair of earbuds, try taking the buds out periodically on long runs to give your ears a rest.

If it’s cold, keep your ears covered with a hat or earmuffs. If your current headwear isn’t effective, visit a running store to see some new options.

Try to relax your jaws as you run. It could be a sign of stress, so practice finding ways to make your life less stressful. Taking deep breaths and thinking of all the things you’re grateful for are great ways to start.

Finally, be sure to see your doctor if you think that you might have GERD, an ear infection, or a ruptured eardrum. You don’t want to mess around with your hearing.

In the end, ear pain is definitely not something you would expect to deal with while running. But it happens. Hopefully we’ve given you some tips on how to deal with ear pain if you happen to experience it on a run. When in doubt, take out the earbuds!

The Wired Runner