WHY DOES MY NOSE RUN?
The technical term for a runny nose caused by cold temperatures is “cold-induced rhinorrhea.” One of the functions of the nose is to warm and humidify the air we breathe in order to prepare it for the lungs. Since cold air is dry, the nose produces liquid to condition the air we are breathing and the excess moisture ends up dripping out of our nose.
Not only does breathing in produce moisture, so does breathing out. Cold air can’t hold as much moisture as warm air, so when you breathe out, the vapor in your breath condenses at the end of your nose and turns into liquid.
Cold Air/Stuffy nose:
Breathing cold air can trigger nasal congestion and even wheezing. Sometimes this is a purely physical effect and happens in two ways.
First, cold air affects an important defense mechanism called mucus transport. The entire respiratory system is coated with a very thin mucus blanket. Cold air stimulates an increase in mucus production. In addition, mucus (like other substances) becomes thicker in colder temperatures.
The second area where cold air physically affects respiratory health is in the nose tissue itself. The hardy nose is a remarkable organ designed to condition inhaled air to protect the delicate internal structures. When breathing through the nose, you may breathe in air at 40 or 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but within a quarter of a second, the air temperature is quickly brought to 98.6 degrees. Many tiny blood vessels, known as capillaries, bring about this temperature exchange.
When a person breathes cold air, the tissues lining the nose swell as the capillaries dilate, bringing warm blood to heat the cool air. Swollen capillaries in the nose are the cause of nasal congestion (nasal congestion is backed-up blood, not increased mucus). In addition to the congestion, the mucus in the nose, as we’ve said, increases and becomes thicker. This happens more in some people than in others. Thus cold air, by itself, can produce both nasal congestion and stuffiness. These can be treated with decongestants and/or antihistamines.
Sometimes the runny nose, congestion, and/or wheezing are a true allergic response to cold temperatures. If this is the case, preventive medicines such as cromolyn (Nasalcrom) or fluticasone (Flonase) can work well for the nose, and cromolyn (Intal), nedocromil (Tilade), fluticasone (Flovent) or the like, can work well to prevent wheezing. A variety of natural remedies have also been proven to help prevent these types of allergies, including quercetin/vitamin C, stinging nettle, saline nose drops, saline eye drops, and a nightly massage.
CAN I PREVENT COLD-INDUCED RHINORRHEA?
Since your nose becomes runny because of its natural process of warming cool air, there isn’t much you can do to prevent it. But when you enter a warm building, your symptoms should go away quickly.
ARE YOUR EAR, NOSE OR THROAT SYMPTOMS NOT GOING AWAY?
The conditions listed above tend to go away immediately or last a day or two at most. If any of your symptoms are persisting after this period of time, it could be caused by something more serious. At Ear, Nose & Throat, we will identify and treat any potential conditions to get you feeling well again.