It’s no secret that most of us don’t get enough exercise—especially now that we’ve spent almost two years dealing with lockdowns and quarantine measures.
It’s also no secret that first-time gym goers have a tendency to overdo it, pushing themselves so hard that it results in an injury. Usually, this takes the form of a sprain or strain. But in certain rare cases, it could result in either hearing loss or tinnitus.
How Does Exercise Cause Hearing Loss?
In most cases, it’s not exercise alone that results in impaired hearing. It’s intense physical activity combined with overly loud music. Hitting the gym with some music is a common practice, and many gyms also turn up the sound in group fitness sessions such as spin classes.
The issue is that the volume in these workout sessions frequently exceeds 90 decibels (dB). Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any noise above 70 dB can, if experienced for a prolonged period, eventually cause irreparable damage. Combine that with the background noise of the gym and your own increased heart rate, and you have the perfect recipe for hearing loss.
What Types of Exercise Are Likelier To Cause Hearing Loss?
While there’s a chance your ears might be left ringing after a period of particularly intense cardio, the likeliest workout to damage your ears is weight training. It’s not just the sound of the weights being moved around, though that certainly doesn’t help. It’s the result of something known as intracranial pressure.
Basically, extreme exertion puts pressure on the brain and surrounding organs, such as the ears. Holding your breath while lifting increases this pressure even more. It’s sort of like the pressure changes experienced while an airplane is taking off—only over and over in a short timeframe.
How Do I Know If My Workout is Damaging My Hearing?
Signs you might need to rethink your workout routine to protect your ears include:
- Tinnitus. A ringing, buzzing, roaring, or clicking in the ear.
- A feeling of fullness in the ear.
- Extreme sensitivity to noise, known as hyperacusis.
- Post-workout disorientation.
- Muffled sound or difficulty hearing conversations.
How Can I Protect My Ears While Exercising?
First and foremost, if you notice any changes in your hearing while working out, stop exercising, and get your hearing tested. The worst thing you can do is assume the symptoms are no big deal and ignore them. That aside, we’ll wrap things up with some essential guidelines for keeping your hearing intact while staying in shape:
If you do weight training, set your weights down. Don’t drop them. Not only is it incredibly rude to other patrons, but the sudden burst of sound can also exceed 140 dB.
If possible, avoid activities like boxing or wrestling, which can result in head injuries.
If you already have hearing loss, bring your hearing aids with you to the gym.
Use earplugs or keep your music at a low volume while working out.
Don’t strain yourself when lifting weights. Consider consulting with a trainer to determine your upper limit and work from there.
Avoid Holding Your Breath During Exercise.
Fitness is important, but like any activity, it does carry certain risks. Those risks, however, are far outweighed by the rewards. As long as you don’t push yourself to the point of injury or hearing damage, you’ll be just fine.
About The Author:
Pauline Dinnauer is the VP of Audiological Care at Connect Hearing, which provides industry-leading hearing loss, hearing testing, and hearing aid consultation across the US.