Picture of a woman working out at the gymYou understand how important exercise is to your health and wellbeing. It helps keep your heart healthy. It curbs obesity. You feel better.

Certainly, something as beneficial as working out couldn’t do you any harm aside from the occasional sports injury. Or could it?

Let’s take a look at how your routine may contribute to hearing loss and what you can do to prevent it.

How Strength Training Can Impact Your Hearing

Many workout routines push you to the limits of your endurance. That’s where you’re able to break down muscle tissues and form new muscle. When muscles grow, it’s actually the tissue repairing the muscle. As these protein-packed tissues, called myofibrils, fuse the muscle fibers together, the fibers become a part of a bigger, stronger muscle.

This in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. But how you push yourself to attain those 15+ inch biceps, or those rippling thighs can be.

Straining

The first hearing loss culprit is straining. When you strain to get in that last rep, you’re putting pressure on your brain. You already knew this. You could feel the blood rushing to your head. You could see how red your cheeks are when you lift in front of a mirror.

You simply may have thought it was harmless.

This straining causes pressure to build in the ears. Air is forced up through your Eustachian tubes that help manage the pressure inside your middle ear.

If this pressure isn’t managed, then the pressure within or without would cause the eardrum to burst in or burst outward. That’s why our ears pop when you hike in the mountains, go scuba diving or fly.

The Eustachian tubes are regulating the pressure.

Straining can also cause enough pressure to generate a perilymphatic fistula (PLF), which is a tear in the membrane that separates the middle ear from the inner ear. Such a tear will cause sudden hearing loss and balance issues.

Suffers will first notice a feeling a fullness in their ears. This is often accompanied but very painful hearing, dizziness, and intolerance to sudden movement. If they continue to workout with this injury, the symptoms will become worse and complete hearing loss may result.

Holding Your Breath

The second culprit is holding your breath. You may hold your breath to put all of your power toward the lift. But in doing so, you’re further increasing the pressure on your brain and in your ears.

How Gym Atmosphere Can Impact Hearing

This isn’t just a bodybuilder problem. If you’re taking spinning, Zumba or other aerobics classes, chances are the volume is cranked up to damaging levels.

Outside in the cardio and weight room, the music is blasting. TVs are blaring. Or you may choose to get in the zone with your own music through earbuds. Weights are clanking on polls, racks and machines.

Even if you skip the gym and go for a jog, chances are you’re taking your music with you.

How to Prevent Workout-Related Hearing Loss

Now let’s talk prevention. You love the gym. Working out is good for you. You’re not giving it up. You don’t have to if you take these simple steps.

  1. Avoid straining and holding your breath while lifting.
  2. If you experience PLF symptoms, stop lifting immediately and schedule an appointment with your doctor.
  3. Know when enough is enough. Extreme weight lifting has more risks than rewards.
  4. Wear earplugs. You can get earplugs that only block 20 decibels or so. Most people can still enjoy the music or hear an instructor with that level of protection.
  5. Be mindful of how loud your headphones are. At full volume, a typical portable music player can produce 115 decibels. Hearing damage starts at 85 decibels. Use the 60/60 rule. No more than 60 minutes at 60% volume.
  6. Be aware that earbuds increase sound by around 9 decibels over regular headphones. If you use earbuds, lower the volume even more.
  7. Get noise-dampening headphones. This blocks outside noise so that you don’t feel the need to turn your music up so loud.
  8. Get a sound meter app on your smartphone. Test the noise levels in your gym. Protect yourself accordingly.
  9. Get a hearing test if you notice any changes in hearing, including hearing sounds that aren’t there like ringing.

By taking these simple precautions, you can get that workout and protect your hearing.