I exercise, I breathe, I hear every minute detail.
April 6, 2010 8:39 PM   Subscribe

Why does exercise make me hear funny? I don't even swim, but it sounds like I have water in my ear.


Exercise or exertion sometimes results in feeling kind of like there's water in my ear. That is, it doesn't really feel like that, but my voice and especially my breathing sound strange in a very similar way. I'm not sure I can explain well it without using that analogy. At the very least, it sounds a lot *louder*, like there's a direct resonating connection to my ear at those times, rather than the way I normally hear my own voice and breathing.

To clarify, by "sometimes" I mean "not enough that I expect it" but also "not so seldom that it's a surprise when it happens". It's been some time since it happened, so I put it out of my mind. In the past couple of weeks, though, it's happened twice. Both times were immediately after a bike ride. Both times it was just my left ear. It's happened in various other situations, though: rock climbing, weight-room exercise, dancing. And I can't be sure, but it may always be my left ear.

I'm not worried about it, and hopefully I won't get any answers that indicate I should've been worried years ago. I plan to talk to a doctor soon about it.

(Previously, a question about exercise and clogging up ears. Related, but different.)
posted by ymendel to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have an answer, but I have the same issue sometimes, with both ears. It only happens when I push myself to the limit. For example, it used to happen quite often when I ran track and did killer workouts such as 200 - 400 - 800 - 1200 - 800 - 400 - 200 and such.

After I finished one of these horrendous doozies, sometimes I would be light headed and it would feel as though my ears had popped or something. I would be acutely aware of all sounds, like I could feel them (at this point a sound could probably topple me, anyway), and my breathing was not just louder to my sense of hearing, but it also felt like I could hear myself breathing from inside my head, if that makes any sense.

I always just figured my body was going haywire 'cause i pushed so hard. Could have something to do with the ear infections I had as a child, as well. I've never worried about it or asked anyone about it. Never had any problems with it other than those sensations, which I thought were pretty cool.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:54 PM on April 6, 2010

You may have fluid sloshing around your eustachian tubes. Which would suggest an infection of some sort.
posted by dfriedman at 8:54 PM on April 6, 2010

happens to me as well, curious what the experts will say....
posted by spacefire at 8:55 PM on April 6, 2010

Now that I'm remembering the sensation, I can remember that when I would speak, it would sorta vibrate my head in a weird way and seem a lot louder than usual. Sounds a lot like what you describe.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:56 PM on April 6, 2010

This happens to me sometimes during allergy season. I bet your eustachian tubes are a little clogged, and the strain of exercising forces air into your inner ear that can't escape immediately.

This is a problem in diving for obvious reasons. Unless it hurts I wouldn't worry about it.
posted by sbutler at 8:57 PM on April 6, 2010

3flryan: if you can consciosly open your eustachiantubes you can experience what you're describing. Doing it right now in fact.
posted by dfriedman at 8:59 PM on April 6, 2010

3FLryan sez: my breathing was not just louder to my sense of hearing, but it also felt like I could hear myself breathing from inside my head, if that makes any sense.

Yes, that's exactly it.
posted by ymendel at 9:03 PM on April 6, 2010

This doesn't happen to everyone? I so want to know now. It always happens to me, which is just one of the many reasons I hate strenuous exercise. Makes me feel like bits of my brain are shutting down one at a time.

And, yes, I also have trouble equalizing when I dive.
posted by little light-giver at 9:05 PM on April 6, 2010

Nth'ing what everyone else is describing. In my case it usually only happens if I haven't exercised in a couple of months. Thankfully.
posted by MillMan at 9:09 PM on April 6, 2010

Always happens to me too, and I always attribute to "sinus problems" without really knowing what I mean by that.
posted by amro at 9:10 PM on April 6, 2010

I get that every time I run hard or do weight training. I can barely hear people talking over sound of my breathing. Annoying, but it doesn't seem to be causing me any lasting harm.
posted by fkoran at 9:12 PM on April 6, 2010

This happens to me too. I always thought it was due to membranes getting dehydrated- it always happens after exercise and during very hot weather. Drinking water always remedied the problem. I wonder if the problem is related to sinus/nose structure (I have a large aquiline nose)
posted by One Thousand and One at 9:30 PM on April 6, 2010

This used to happen to me while lifting weights. I attributed it to holding my breathe while lifting. Once I began consciencely exhaling during excertion the problem resolved itself.
posted by axismundi at 9:38 PM on April 6, 2010

Low blood pressure? This has happened to me, and I assumed it was due to low blood pressure, and near-fainting.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:45 PM on April 6, 2010

Happens to me when I work out, curious to know if there is a solution? Time has been the only solution so far.
posted by Sonic_Molson at 9:48 PM on April 6, 2010

It happened to me for a few years, and I even had tubes put into my ears to try to fix the problem (it didn't work at all). Along with strenuous exercise, it would sometimes happen when I was nervous about talking in front of people. I'd be teaching or giving a presentation and suddenly lose the hearing in my left ear.

The tubes actually made the whole situation much worse, but it eventually stopped, with no change in behavior for me. In my case, I think it might have had something to do with jaw issues. It started right around the time I started to have stress-related TMJ issues and went around around the time my stress started manifesting itself in other ways. Plus, while I had the tubes, my ears would start to hurt whenever my jaw was acting up.
posted by capsizing at 9:48 PM on April 6, 2010

It's happened to me also, particularly when doing squats. I was told that it was due to not breathing properly. So, like axismundi, I concentrate on making sure I inhale deeply on the way down and exhale well during the exertion, and it seems to happen less often. This is only anecdotal, of course, and I don't know any of the scientific reasons why this happens.
posted by weathergal at 10:43 PM on April 6, 2010

sbutler has it: You may have thinner or more "noodly" eustachian tubes that are particularly susceptible during allergy season. This happens to me during Spring and late Fall, and it took me two years to figure out I had developed latent allergies that I had never had before (awesome!). The effect was initially scary, as my hearing would go out for hours at a time, but would eventually clear as summer rolled around.
posted by thatbrunette at 11:02 PM on April 6, 2010

I had the opposite of capsizing's problem - my ENT thought I had a problem with my jaw (having recently had braces removed), but I knew I didn't and asked for the tube anyway. It turned out it was indeed Glue Ear. Oh, I had been miserable. For almost a year I had been unable to hear much out of my right ear, or do any kind of exercise without getting that awful cloggy feeling. The tube helped very, very much, though it has its own disadvantages - you can't ever get water in your ear till it comes out. I don't know if you have what I had, or if you need the tube - my doctor tried antibiotics and steroids first. Talk to a doctor if it's really bothering you. Good luck!
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:35 AM on April 7, 2010

It's happened to me also, particularly when doing squats. I was told that it was due to not breathing properly. So, like axismundi, I concentrate on making sure I inhale deeply on the way down and exhale well during the exertion, and it seems to happen less often.

This isn't a direct answer to your question, but a word of caution -- if you are squatting with a barbell, or performing any exercise with a free weight in which your spine is being loaded, like a standing press or a deadlift, you should be holding your breath (performing the valsalva maneuver) while the bar is moving, not breathing during the rep. The valsalva maneuver increases intra-abdominal pressure and stabilizes your spine against the load. Breathing while the bar is moving puts you at risk for a back injury.

As for the ear bit, I know exactly what you're describing but I never experience it while lifting. Could be you've got some buildup in your ear that gets jostled during exertion such that it creates a blockage.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:45 AM on April 7, 2010

Happens to me as well. It sucks but does let me know I had a hard workout.
posted by jasondigitized at 8:07 AM on April 7, 2010

I feel so accepted and normal right now. Thanks for all the great responses!
posted by ymendel at 9:00 AM on April 7, 2010

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