Why Do My Ears Pop When I Workout?

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Written By Kristen
Kristen has been in the fitness industry for over 20 years. She has certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a NASM - Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). Kristen provides provide a variety of personal training services, including in-home training, one on one personal training, small group training as well as online. Kristen's writing has been featured in the likes of Shape and Boston Magazine.

It can be hard enough to find the motivation to go to the gym without the added discomfort of popping in your ears. Luckily, a few simple tricks may bring you relief during your next visit if you are one of the many who suffer from popping in the ears during exercise.

The culprit may be as simple as holding or restricting your breath too much during exercise. Ear-popping during exercise can also occur if you do resistance training and practice the Valsalva maneuver, which may affect your ear and blood pressure. In rarer and more persistent cases, ear popping during exercise could be a symptom of a Patulous Eustachian tube.

Exercising is already hard enough work, so let’s learn more about why this happens and ways to prevent or soothe the popping sensation.

What Causes Ear Popping?

why do my ears pop when i workout

You may hear your ears pop when you change altitudes in a plane or car. This pop is your Eustachian tubes equalizing the pressure in your middle ear to the change in pressure around you.

Other causes of ear popping are congestion from allergies, colds, or sinus infections. Ear popping can also be a symptom of an ear infection when other symptoms are present, such as pain in the ear and fever.

You may experience ear popping if you’ve been diagnosed with Eustachian tube dysfunction. Your Eustachian tubes are located in your middle ear and connect to your nasal-sinus cavity. When there is a blockage, they cannot drain fluid, protect your ears from loud sounds, or balance pressure properly, resulting in frequent popping in the ears.

Common Ways to Pop Your Ears Manually

If the pressure builds up in your ears, you might not always notice until it equalizes. There are a few techniques that can induce ear popping.

  • Yawning
  • Swallowing
  • Chewing gum
  • Warm compresses
  • Valsalva maneuver (Gently breathing out through the nose while pinching the nostrils)
  • Toynbee maneuver (Swallowing while pinching the nostrils)

Manually popping your ears can relieve significant discomfort caused by trapped air in the middle ear. If these methods do not work for you, there may still be a simple solution.

What causes ear popping during exercise?

Popping in the ears is usually no cause for alarm, especially under normal circumstances. If your ears pop excessively during exercise, you might need to change your technique.

Your Breathing Technique

Working out is supposed to be difficult because it is how we increase our strength. Sometimes we strain while working out and might restrict or hold our breaths to maintain form.  

Whether conscious or not, this pattern could be what’s causing the popping sensation in your ears. Holding your breath when your lungs need to exhale could cause a change in pressure in your middle ear.

Your Eustachian tubes will compensate for the increase in pressure by releasing the air, which creates the popping sound. Exhale completely rather than hold your breath to see if this alleviates the popping sensation.   

The Valsalva Maneuver

The Valsalva maneuver is most commonly used to manually equalize pressure in your middle ears by gently exhaling through the nose while the nostrils are pinched. This action increases pressure in the sinus cavity, which pushes air through the Eustachian tube and releases built-up pressure. 

Those who do resistance training—especially weight lifters—also use this maneuver by following the above procedure and bearing down, similar to how you would for a bowel movement. The method allows you to lift more weight but can cause unnecessary strain and may not be safe for everyone.

This same maneuver is also commonly used as a diagnostic medical test for various heart problems because it induces a drop in blood pressure.

Although you can use the Valsalva maneuver to equalize pressure in the middle ear, it can also create a pressure imbalance. The pressure building and releasing causes your ear to pop during weight lifting or similar activities.

Running up That Hill?

You might also hear popping in your ears if you are a runner and experience a sudden elevation change. Though this is more common when driving up and down hills and mountains or in a plane, experiencing a sudden shift of air pressure in any situation can cause ear-popping.

Outdoor exercise during a shift in temperature can also shift the outside air pressure. If you’re exercising when the temperature increases or decreases rapidly enough, you may experience ear-popping.

Is it a Patulous Eustachian Tube?

A Patulous Eustachian tube, or PET, is a type of Eustachian tube dysfunction whose symptoms worsen during exercise. It is important to note that only a doctor can diagnose a Patulous Eustachian tube.

It is also important to note that a Patulous Eustachian tube will present with other symptoms outside of ear popping during exercise. Some of which include autophony and muffled hearing.

How Can I Stop My Ears From Popping During Exercise?

The first step to finding relief from ear popping is to find the cause. If you’ve already tried one of the techniques to manually pop your ears and found that your ears still pop during exercise, there are a couple of things you can try to find relief.

Train Your Breath

We all know how to breathe without even thinking about it, but not thinking about your breath during exercise might be holding you back. If you hold or restrict your breath during vigorous exercise, try to breathe through it. 

Training your breath for exercise is easier said than done. If you’re used to holding your breath while you strain, you likely don’t even think about it. You will need to practice breathing through strenuous exercises instead of holding it.

Changing your breathing habits will take some time. Once you’ve mastered a healthier breathing pattern, you may notice your ears popping less and less during your regular workouts. 

Avoid the Valsalva Maneuver During Heavy Lifting

Avoiding the Valsalva maneuver during resistance training is another way to reduce ear popping during exercise. Even though it can improve your physical performance, it may enhance your overall workout experience by cutting the maneuver altogether. 

If you find your ears popping from this maneuver, drinking water or another beverage may relieve the symptom.

Opt for an Indoor Gym

If you exercise outdoors and suspect that temperature is the culprit, try working out in a gym or another indoor setting to see if that relieves the popping. If going indoors is not an option, wearing ear coverings for cold weather could also prove helpful. As always, practice caution when covering your ears outside since it may reduce your ability to hear your surroundings.

References

1. Hain, M. D. T. C. (2022, May 17). Pressure sensitivity of the ear. Pressure Sensitivity of the Ear. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://dizziness-and-balance.com/disorders/symptoms/pressure.htm

2. McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., &; Victor L Katch. (2009). 12. In Exercise physiology: Nutrition, energy, and human performance (pp. 265–269). essay, Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

3. Nieman, C. L., & Ward, B. K. (2022, April 12). Eustachian tube dysfunction. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/eustachian-tube-dysfunction

4. Patel, MD Alpen A. (2021, December 23). Patulous Eustachian tube. Practice Essentials, Epidemiology, Etiology. Retrieved October 10, 2022, from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/858909-overview

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Written By

Kristen

Kristen has been in the fitness industry for over 20 years. She has certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine and is a NASM - Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). Kristen provides provide a variety of personal training services, including in-home training, one on one personal training, small group training as well as online. Kristen's writing has been featured in the likes of Shape and Boston Magazine.

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