Can exercise damage your hearing?
There is no denying that exercise is beneficial to the body and mind. But be careful, because some fitness routines might come with an unpleasant side effect: hearing loss.
You may be asking, “What does exercise have to do with my ears?”
There are a few common practices involved with strenuous exercise that threaten your ear health. Weightlifting is central to this as it causes strain.
Straining causes intracranial pressure (pressure within the brain), which, in turn leads to pressure within the ears.
The next is breath holding, which many people tend to unconsciously do when lifting weights or even just body weight. The pressure in the inner ear that this causes can lead to changes in the hearing during or after intense exercise as a result of a perilymphatic fistula, or PLF, which occurs unexpectedly and which most people aren’t aware of right away.
Simply put, a PLF is a small tear or defect in the thin membrane between the inner ear and the middle ear. The tear itself can be caused by the pressure in the inner ear due to straining; hearing changes occur when the strain of subsequent workouts causes fluid from the inner ear to leak through the tear and into the middle ear.
The risk isn’t limited to weight raining Even running or intense yoga poses can cause changes in hearing and any exercise in a gym setting can bring the risk of hearing loss. The crashing weights and loud music, which have become the norm in gyms everywhere can lead to irreversible noise-induced hearing loss or tinnitus.
Rachel Raphael, M.A., CCC-A, an audiologist with Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore and a certified group fitness instructor explains. “If in fact, the smashing weights are in this range for volume, it wouldn't take much for the person at close range to suffer permanent damage, in the way of high frequency sensorineural hearing loss and/or tinnitus as a symptom secondary to the damage in the cochlea.”
Tips for healthy exercise for your hearing
- Get a hearing check immediately if you experience any change in hearing during or after exercise.
- If you experience pain, immediately drop your weight down to reduce strain. Reducing the strain will reduce the intracranial pressure, and possibly prevent a PLF from occurring.
- If you are noticing hearing problems during or after exercise, experiment to find the level of exercise at which you are no longer experiencing changes to your hearing.
- Protect your hearing in the group fitness sessions. Wear earplugs to safeguard against loud music, or keep headphones at a reasonable volume to avoid long-term damage in the form of noise-induced hearing loss.
- As you age, do less straining during exercise, especially in the form of heavy lifting.
- Take care not to hold your breath to get that extra boost of strength, as holding your breath increases the pressure within the ears.
- Don’t push yourself
- Don’t participate in heavy contact sports
- Don’t bang weights when weight lifting. That sudden noise can reach a level as high as 140 decibels, which is like being exposed to a gunshot or explosion.
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