Simple ear issues can bring down even the mighty.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
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Simple ear issues can bring down even the mighty.

You can’t lift weights with your ears, nor will they help you sprint faster. While it may seem that hearing the referee’s whistle or instructions being yelled out by a coach are just about as useful as your ears can be in the world of sports, they do much more. A mere ear problem could achieve what several world-class footballers have failed to – knock the graceful Lionel Messi off balance.

Even simple exercises like walking, riding or yoga may be impossible with ear problems that could be harder to diagnose than common nose and sinus issues. Those afflicted give a wide range of descriptions for their symptoms: such as feeling woozy, light-headed, groggy, or just spaced out.

Dr Lynne Lim, a ear, nose and throat specialist, shares about the signs of ear problems that accompany three sporting activities.


While contorting yourself during yoga classes, it may sometimes feel like either your head, or the room, is spinning.

These symptoms point to problems with inner ear balance. The most common is Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) that is caused by tiny calcium crystals getting detached from your inner ear organs, and moving about with head movements. This is why it can feel better when you keep your head still.


Scuba diving can be very uncomfortable when pressure in the middle ear is not equalised.

The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear space behind the ear drum to the back of the nose, and it opens and closes to equalise pressure and drain fluid out from the middle ear. Infection, and in rare instances, tumours, can cause the tube to be blocked. This may result in pressure pain, a ringing in the ear and even loss of hearing.

Having the Eustachian tube abnormally open is not helpful either. Sounds – even your own panting during exercise – can be amplified or distorted. This condition can be confirmed with simple tests at the doctor’s office, and a small surgical procedure can alleviate chronic problems.


Water in your ears can be uncomfortable, but it could get worse, especially for those with narrow and hairy canals or even eczema.

Water seeping into your ears during water sports can cause Swimmer’s Ear. This outer ear canal infection can make the ears feel blocked, itchy or result in a painful swelling. But a trip to the doctor to clean water or debris-logged ears could sort out the issue, with antibiotic eardrops or medication possibly required to get you back to your sporting best.
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