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Why Do My Ears Hurt After Running?

Running at home on a treadmill or outside can be a great workout, but some issues may also develop, for example, ear pain that can occur regularly, after each running session, or even randomly.

Although ear pain is not on the top of the health issues list for most runners, it can be very irritating and prevent the athlete from achieving desired goals.

Published: April 11, 2023.

2023 running

Causes and Prevention of Ear Pain

Ear pain can be a common occurrence for runners, but knowing what causes it and how to prevent it is essential. There are many reasons why your ears might hurt during or after running.

Here is the list of the most common ear pain causes and solutions how to prevent it.

Jaw Tension

One common cause of ear pain after running is tension in the jaw, which can cause pain in the ear canal. Tightness in the jaw can occur when the runner is stressed and clench the teeth, leading to referred pain in the ears.

To prevent this, try to relax the jaw and keep the teeth apart while running. This may happen both indoors and outdoors, especially during heavy workouts, HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Running) running sessions, and similar.

For short, relax and enjoy your run.

Uncomfortable Earbuds

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Another cause of ear pain during running can be the use of earphones that don't fit well or uncomfortable earbuds. If the earphones are too large or too small, they can put pressure on the ear canal and cause discomfort.

To prevent this, try to find earphones that fit snugly and comfortably in your ears - silicon earbuds or earbuds with silicon caps adjust their shape to the ear canal, and in most cases, they are very comfortable to wear, even when trail running.

Also, take breaks from using earphones during your run to give your ears a rest.

Earphones Don't Fit Well

Just as earbuds must be comfortable, the earphones also must fit well.

If the earphones don't fit well or are too tight, they can injure the outer ear. But, if they don't fit tight, they can fall off, causing the runner to lose focus and maybe even fall down.

The obvious solution is to find tight, but not too tight, comfortable earphones or to replace them with comfortable earbuds.

Earwax Build-Up

Earwax build-up can also cause ear pain. The wax can harden and block the ear canal, leading to pressure and pain in the ear. To prevent this, you can use ear drops to soften the wax or see a doctor for ear cleaning.

Also, every time one pushes earbuds, one can cause a build-up of earwax in certain parts of the ear canal - clean the earbuds after each use with a clean cloth or as the manufacturer recommends.

Listening to Too Loud Music

too loud music

Listening to music at a high volume can damage your ears and cause pain, so keeping the volume at a safe level is important. The worse of all is that loud music often helps runners with discomfort and pain they feel in their legs, lungs, heart, shoulders, etc.

As such, loud music can help but don't risk your hearing.

Running in Cold Weather

Cold weather can cause the muscles in your jaw to contract, leading to referred pain in the ear.

Also, cold air can cause blood vessels to constrict in and around the ears, leading to pressure build-up and increased discomfort and even pain.

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To prevent this, keep your ears warm by wearing a suitable hat/clothes and if necessary, improve blood circulation around your ears by gently massaging them.

Quick Changes in Altitude

Quick altitude changes can cause ear pain due to pressure changes in the ear. This doesn't happen often, but when it does, the pain can be rather sharp, similar to ear pain during deep diving with just a mask and snorkel.

To equalize the pressure in the ears, one has to swallow something - some saliva or just a few drops of water are more than enough.

Ruptured Eardrum

First of all, any physically demanding exercise with a ruptured eardrum is not recommended unless directly supervised by a doctor or trainer.

If You have a ruptured eardrum, the pain will be present even when not working out, and working out, running included, can even worsen the situation.

Ruptured eardrums are generally not caused by running or working out but by a sudden air pressure change (deep diving with just a mask and snorkel, for example), loud sound, ear infection, or other ear trauma, etc.

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But, when it happens, it may be very painful - go to the doctor's office and check your ears and act as advised.

Allergies and Ear Infections

Allergies and ear infections can also cause ear pain during or after running. The inflammation in the sinuses or ear canals can cause pain and discomfort. To prevent this, try to avoid allergens and see a doctor if you suspect an ear infection.

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) can cause ear pain as acid reflux can irritate the lining of the throat and middle ear.

To prevent this, eating a healthy diet and avoiding eating just before running is highly recommended.

Few Final Words

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Ear pain can be a common occurrence for runners, but it's important to understand the underlying causes and prevent them.

Tension in the jaw, poorly fitting earphones, earwax build-up, listening to music at too high a volume, running in cold weather, altitude changes, allergies, ear infections, and GERD are all possible causes of ear pain.

You can avoid ear pain during or after running by taking preventative measures such as relaxing the jaw, finding comfortable earphones, and avoiding loud music.

If the pain persists or worsens, it's always best to see a doctor to rule out any serious underlying conditions.

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