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Earaches and Cycling

By Darla Ferrara

Pain is a message from the body that something is wrong. When the pain occurs in your ears, it generally indicates an infection. The infection has little to do with bike riding, but cycling may aggravate the underlying condition, especially in cold weather. Ear problems need to be evaluated by a doctor and may require treatment.

Ear Infections

Ear infections occur when bacteria, fungi or a virus build up in one of the air-filled spaces in the canal. Frequent ear cleaning with a foreign object, such as a cotton swab, may be the source. When the skin inside the ear canal becomes damaged, you are exposed to infection. Allergies and even the common cold can block the tubes that allow fluids to drain from the ear and lead to infection. Water that gets inside the passage from swimming or bathing often causes inflammation. Bike riding is not a sport associated with ear infections since there is no water submersion.

Common Misconception

It is a common misconception that exposure to cold air from bike riding will cause an ear infection. Cold weather will not lead to an ear infection, according to the McKinley Health Center. It may have an effect on your overall health and make you vulnerable to colds or the flu. Cold wind may also aggravate an already existing infection. This doesn't mean you should not protect your ears if you bike ride in inclement weather. If you have ear pain during these rides, it may be due to the freezing or wind burn on the outside of the ear.

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Ear Protection

Covering your ears when biking in cold weather may prevent some of the pain. This is true regardless of the cause of the discomfort. A ski mask, or balaclava, works well for bikers because it is adjustable. As you ride, your body will heat up, and you may want to shed some of the protection. A balaclava can cover the head, face and neck at the beginning of the ride. Once you warm up, fold the mask up so it sits on top of your head like a hat. Keep the material pulled down far enough to cover your ears. Other options for ear protection includes ear muffs or a hat the pulls down over the ears.

Expert Insight

Ear pain is not something you should ignore, especially if it is persistent. Ear infections can damage the intricate structure of the middle and inner ear. This damage may have a lasting impact on your hearing. Untreated ear infections can spread to become life threatening. If you suffer from allergies, talk to your doctor about taking a nondrowsy antihistamine regularly to help reduce ear pain. If you bike ride at high elevations, ear pain may be due to barotrauma, or air pressure. Try chewing gum or yawning when riding to see if this eases the discomfort.

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