Why Do My Ears Hurt When I Run? 9 Causes and Prevention Tips

Do your ears hurt when you run? It’s a common problem, and there can be many causes. Understanding the cause of your ear pain is the first step in resolving it. That way, you can focus on your running mileage and not on ear pain.

In this blog post for ‘why do my ears hurt when I run’, we will discuss the most common reasons for ear pain when running, as well as how to prevent it. We will also cover what to do if your ears start hurting while you are running so that you don’t have to stop mid-run. So, if you are experiencing ear pain while running, keep reading- this article is for you!

Why Do My Ears Hurt When I Run

9 Reasons – Why Do My Ears Hurt When I Run

Let’s review the top 9 reasons for ear pain while running. Each section will be followed by prevention tips to help you get back to running ear pain-free. Chances are, there’s a combination of causes for your ear pain that you can start to tackle by following one tip below at a time.

1. Cold Temperatures

When it’s cold outside- whether you’re running in the snow or on frigid mornings, the air can irritate your ears and cause pain. This is because cold air is dry, and when it enters your ears it can cause the skin (particularly the eardrum) to become irritated. Ear irritation can be further irritated when the cold wind is accompanied by wind.

How to Prevent Ear Pain from Cold Air

If you are running in cold weather, make sure to dress warmly and protect your ears from the elements. This means wearing a headband or ear warmers to keep your ears warm.

2. Digestion/GI Issues

If you have a gastrointestinal issue such as acid reflux, you may experience ear pain when running. When stomach acid can travels up your esophagus (throat), it can cause symptoms like heartburn, chest pain, coughing, and even ear pain.

How to Prevent Ear Pain from Digestion/GI Issues

If you have a gastrointestinal issue like acid reflux (GERD), it’s important to manage your condition. This may mean avoiding trigger foods, eating smaller meals, and not lying down or exercising right after eating. You should also talk to your doctor about medications that can help manage your GERD symptoms.

3. Ill-Fitting Headphones/Earbuds

If your headphones or earbuds don’t fit properly, they can cause ear pain- whether they’re too tight or too loose. This is because the pressure from the headphones can irritate the skin in your ear, as well as cause irritation of the ear canal or eardrum itself.

How to Prevent Ear Pain from Ill-Fitting Headphones/Earbuds

To prevent ear pain from ill-fitting headphones, make sure that your headphones or earbuds fit snugly but not too tight. You should also make sure that the headphones are not pressing on your eardrum (not common). If you find that your headphones are constantly slipping out or causing pain, try a different style or size. All of our ears are different, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Additionally, these days you can get “headphones” that don’t even go in your ear! There are several types of “bone conduction” headphones that sit on the outside of your ear and don’t go in (or near) your ear canal. These can be a great option if you find traditional headphones or earbuds to be irritating. Plus, as a runner, they provide you extra safety when running outdoors so that you can better hear traffic and be tuned into your surroundings.

4. Volume

Listening to music or audio at a high volume can damage the delicate cells in your ear (cochlea) and lead to pain. This is because when you listen to music at a high volume, the pressure from the sound waves can damage the cochlea.

How to Prevent Ear Pain from Volume

To prevent ear pain due to volume, make sure to keep your music or audio at a moderate level. You should be able to hear people talking next to you without having to strain. Additionally, it’s a good idea to take breaks from listening to music or audio altogether so that your ears can rest.

5. Jaw Tension

Jaw tension is often caused by clenching your teeth or grinding your teeth (bruxism). This can lead to ear pain because the muscles in your jaw are attached to your ears. When these muscles are tight, they can pull leading to secondary pain or even nerve irritation that affects your ears. Additionally, jaw tension can also lead to headaches, which can exacerbate ear pain.

How to Prevent Ear Pain from Jaw Tension

To prevent ear pain from jaw tension, try to relax your jaw muscles when you are running. You can do this by focusing on softening your jaw, keeping your teeth slightly apart, and resting your tongue on the roof of your mouth. If you find yourself clenching or grinding your teeth, you may want to talk to your dentist or doctor about possible treatments.

If you notice you have jaw tension throughout the day, also consider these other prevention tips:

  • Practice adequate stress management techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga.
  • Avoid caffeine as it can increase anxiety and cause muscle tension.
  • Eat softer foods that are easy to chew to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your jaw muscles.
  • Avoid common irritating activities like chewing gum, using a straw, or resting your hand on your jaw.

6. Heavy Exertion

Heavy exertion can lead to ear pain because it changes the pressure in your head. This is due to the fact that when you exert yourself, your heart rate and respiratory rate increase. This in turn causes an increase in blood flow, which can lead to an increase in intracranial pressure within your ear canal.

Additionally, heavy exertion can also lead to dehydration, which can further contribute to ear pain. This can be from running or other activities like lifting, HIIT workouts, and even sex.

How to Prevent Ear Pain from Heavy Exertion

To prevent ear pain from heavy exertion, make sure to warm up before you start running. Start with a slow jog and gradually increase your speed. Additionally, make sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your run to avoid dehydration. And lastly, if you feel any pain during your run, slow down or stop and rest.

For other higher exertion activities like lifting or high-intensity cardio exercise, avoid holding your breath as this can further increase intracranial pressure. Instead, focus on breathing evenly and slowly through your nose.

7. Altitude Changes

If you live in an area with a lot of elevation changes, this can lead to ear pain when running. This is because when you run at a high altitude, the air pressure inside your ears is higher than the air pressure outside your ears. This can cause pain, discomfort, and even dizziness- particularly when returning to lower elevation levels.

How to Prevent Ear Pain from Altitude Changes

If you live in an area with a lot of elevation changes, there are a few things you can do to prevent ear pain when running. First, approach elevation changes gradually to allow the ears time to adjust. If you are going to be running at a higher altitude, start by slowly acclimating yourself to the change in elevation. Plus, if you start noticing extra pressure in your ears try releasing it with a yawn, a drink of water, or chewing gum (as long as you don’t have jaw pain).

8. Ear Wax or Sweat Build Up

Too much build-up of ear wax or sweat in the ear canal can lead to pressure and pain. If so, you may notice more ear wax coming out of your ear than normal or even that you’re having a hard time hearing.

How to Prevent Ear Pain from Buildup

You can try home remedies like ear wax removal kits, swimmer’s ear drops, or a warm compress. You can also talk to your doctor about medical ear wax removal.

9. Allergies or Ear Infection

If you have allergies or an ear infection, this can lead to inflammation and pain in the ear. Additionally, you may notice other symptoms like itchiness, drainage, or a feeling of fullness in the ear. If you think you might have an ear infection, it’s important to see a doctor as untreated infections can cause serious complications.

How to Prevent Ear Pain from Allergies or an Ear Infection

If you have allergies, avoid triggers like pollen, dust, smoke, and pet dander. Additionally, over-the-counter antihistamines can help relieve allergy symptoms. For an ear infection, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible for addressing any bacterial overgrowth.

When Should I See My Doctor for Ear Pain When Running?

You should see your doctor for ear pain when running if:

  • The pain is severe
  • The pain is chronic (more than a few weeks without any type of relief)
  • The pain is accompanied by a chronic headache
  • The pain is accompanied by other symptoms like fever, drainage from the ear, ear ringing (tinnitus), or hearing loss
  • The pain does not improve with consistent home treatment
  • You think you might have an ear infection
  • You are experiencing other global symptoms, such as dizziness, vertigo, or brain fog (trouble concentrating)

Occasionally, ear pain when running can be a sign of a more serious condition. If you’re experiencing severe or persistent pain, it’s important to see your doctor to rule out any underlying causes of ear pain. Plus, if you’re feeling unsure of the cause it’s best to seek medical advice.

Why do my ears hurt when I run

Troubleshooting Ear Pain While Running

If you’re out for a run and ear pain strikes, it can be helpful to have a few options in mind for getting immediate ear pain relief. These tips can help you continue running without ear pain getting in the way. Let’s review quick remedies to try:

1. Slow Down or Stop

If you are in pain, the first step is to slow down or stop running altogether. This will help prevent further ear pain and allow the ears time to recover.

2. Double Check Your Posture and Form

Bad posture or incorrect form can put extra stress on the ears, due to jaw or neck tension. If you’re feeling pain, make sure to check your posture and correct any errors. Not sure what to check? Talk to a physical therapist.

3. Relax Your Face and Neck

Tension in the face and neck can contribute to ear pain. If you’re feeling pain, make sure to relax your facial muscles and loosen any tightness in the neck area. Try shaking out your face, placing your tongue on the roof of your mouth, and avoiding any fist clenching too.

4. Adjust the Volume

If you’re listening to music or audiobooks while running, make sure the volume isn’t too loud. High volume levels can cause ear pain, so it’s important to keep the sound at a moderate level.

5. Keep a Headband on You for Any Weather Changes

If you live in a colder climate, keep a headband with you while running. This can help prevent any ear pain that might be caused by the cold weather.

6. Ditch the Headphones

If you’re midrun and can’t see to get any relief, try running without your headphones altogether. This can help quickly stop any ear pain that might be caused by wearing headphones or earbuds.

Of course, once you’re done with your run you can review all of our prevention tips above to get longer-term ear pain relief.

Why do my ears hurt when I run

Don’t Let Ear Pain Slow You Down

Ear pain when running doesn’t have to sideline your training program. By understanding the potential causes of ear pain and taking preventive measures, you can avoid ear pain altogether. And if you do experience pain, there are plenty of options for quickly getting relief so you can get back to your run as soon as possible.

I hope these remedies help you stay on track with your running goals and current mileage. There’s nothing more annoying than something like ear pain getting in the way of your training efforts. Happy Running!

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JayDee Vykoukal

JayDee is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and ex-collegiate Division 1 athlete. Through her own online platform, Health Means Wealth, she is dedicated to helping her clients live their best lives through the power of healthy habits.

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