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Why do we get runny noses in the cold?

Why do we get runny noses in the cold?


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The most annoying thing for me about being cold is a runny nose. Is there an advantage to having a runny nose when cold? What does having a runny nose achieve?


There are two reasons for this:

  1. Nasal mucus helps warm inhaled air before it reaches the lungs. In cold weather, the mucus tends to dry out, so the membranes increase their production.
  2. At the same time, exhaled air is warmer than the surrounding air, so it contains more moisture than the outside air can hold. This moisture condenses around the tip of the nose.

Explanation found here.

So there's no particular advantage to getting a runny nose; it's just a normal reaction occurring in extreme conditions.


Rhinorrhea, or runny nose is a response used by our nasal membrane to get rid of foreign particles including pollen dust and infection. As such we get runny noses when we have a cold, allergy or are exposed to high densities of air-born particles. Cold air may irritate our nasal membranes, both because of temperature differences relative to our body and due to the lower amounts of moisture cold air holds. Cold air thus also results in a runny nose.


There are definite advantages to getting a runny nose in cold weather. Rhinoviruses prefer cold weather and deploying large amounts of mucus is a good way to trap them (instead of letting them get in to infect the nose). Additionally, severe dry nose can cause nosebleeds and the mucus helps prevent this from happening.


I’ve always wondered: why your nose runs when it’s cold

David King does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners

University of Queensland provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

This is an article from I’ve Always Wondered, a new series where readers send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. Send your question to [email protected]

Why does your nose run when it’s cold? It seems counterintuitive - Sonja Dominik

About 50-90% of people get a runny nose when it’s cold. We call this “cold-induced rhinitis”, or “skier nose”. People with asthma, eczema and hay fever seem to experience it more.

It’s the job of your nose to make the air you breathe in warm and wet so that when it gets to your lungs it does not irritate the cells. When inhaling air through the nose at subfreezing temperatures, the air in the back of the nose is usually about 26°C, but can be as high as 30°C. And the humidity of air at the back of the nose is usually around 100%, irrespective of how cold the air is we’re breathing in.

This shows the nose is very effective at making sure the air we breath becomes warm and wet before it reaches the lungs.

So how does it do this? Cold, dry air stimulates the nerves inside your nose, which send a message through your nerves to your brain. Your brain then responds to this impulse by increasing the blood flow to the nose, and these dilated blood vessels warm the air passing over them. Secondly, the nose is triggered to produce more secretions via the mucous glands in order to provide the moisture to humidify the air coming through.

Treatment is usually just to carry a hanky or tissue! from www.shutterstock.com

The cold, dry air also stimulates cells of your immune system (called “mast cells”) in your nose. These cells trigger the production of more liquid in your nose to make the air more moist. It’s estimated you can lose up to 300-400mL of fluid daily through your nose as it performs this function.

Heat and water loss are closely related: heating the air in the nasal cavities means the lining of the nasal cavity (mucosa) becomes cooler than core body temperature at the same time, water evaporates (becomes vapour) to make the air moist. Water evaporation, which requires large amounts of heat, takes heat from the nose, thus making it cooler.

In response, the blood flow to the nose increases further, as the task of warming the air that’s breathed in takes precedence over heat loss from the nose (the body’s normal response to cold is to shunt blood away from the surface to the deep vessels to minimise heat loss from the skin). So it’s a difficult balancing act to achieve the correct amount of heat and moisture lost from the nose.

When the compensatory mechanism is a little too overactive, moisture in excess of that needed to humidify this cold, dry air will drip from the nostrils. Mast cells are usually more sensitive in people with asthma and allergies, and blood vessel changes more reactive in those who are sensitive to environmental irritants and temperature changes. So nasal congestion and even sneezing can be triggered by the cold air.

Treatment is usually simply to carry some tissues or a handkerchief. Although the use of anticholinergic (blocks nerve impulses) and anti-inflammatory nasal sprays such as Atropine and Ipratropium have been trialled with some success.

Medical student Caitlin Saunders also contributed to this article.


There are quite a few reasons for getting a runny nose, though once you’ve got one, you may not really care why it’s happening, you just want it to stop.

Sometimes when it’s really bad it can literally leak out of your nose like a leaky faucet, which is just not conducive to the normal routine of daily life.

Below are some of the more common questions asked regarding what causes a constant runny nose.

1. What Causes a Runny Nose During a Cold?

The cause of a runny nose when you have a cold is a virus that lodges itself inside makes its way to the membranes of the nose.

It multiplies and creates an inflammation reaction, which in turn produces excessive mucus in the nose and chest. Your body sends white blood cells to destroy the virus, and this cellular skirmish results in a runny nose. Just keep blowing your nose to remove it all.

2. What Causes a Runny Nose and Sneezing?

This is typically the sign of a cold or flu. It needs to run its course, so the usual remedies of plenty of rest and fluids apply, but also keep blowing into a tissue to remove the germs from your body.

3. What Causes a Runny Nose All the Time?

Though it isn’t exactly known why, the first step is to remove allergens and irritants from your home by cleaning and dusting thoroughly. Avoid environmental pollutants such as smoke and harsh chemical cleaning products. If the issue does not clear up within a month, talk to your doctor.

4. What Causes a Runny Nose and Sore Throat?

This is usually a result of a virus from a cold or flu. A runny nose doesn’t always flow out of the nostrils it can also flow into the back of the throat (post-nasal drip), which often results in sore throats. It will pass once the illness resolves, typically within seven days.

5. What Causes a Runny Nose When Eating?

Quite often, getting a runny nose while eating is the result of eating spicy or hot food the medical term for it is gustatory rhinitis. It’s unclear why this happens, but it’s nothing to worry about.

Get relief from a runny nose…


Immune Response

Your immune response to rhinovirus infection is complex. As the viruses attach to your epithelial cells, your natural killer cells -- a special population of immune cells -- recognize the viruses as foreign and initiate attempts to remove them, along with the infected cells. These NK cells release chemical messengers that dilate surrounding blood vessels and attract additional immune cells, such as neutrophils and antibody-producing B cells. These cells release their own chemical messengers, and soon a full-blown inflammatory response has been generated within the inner layers of your nasal passages. The swelling, increased mucus production and “leakiness” evoked by this inflammatory process, account for the nasal congestion and runny nose that characterize a cold.


Why does your nose run when it's cold?

Even if you’re not sick, your nose runs when it’s cold. Why? from www.shutterstock.com

This is an article from I’ve Always Wondered, a new series where readers send in questions they’d like an expert to answer. Send your question to [email protected]

Why does your nose run when it’s cold? It seems counterintuitive - Sonja Dominik

About 50-90% of people get a runny nose when it’s cold. We call this “cold-induced rhinitis”, or “skier nose”. People with asthma, eczema and hay fever seem to experience it more.

It’s the job of your nose to make the air you breathe in warm and wet so that when it gets to your lungs it does not irritate the cells. When inhaling air through the nose at subfreezing temperatures, the air in the back of the nose is usually about 26°C, but can be as high as 30°C. And the humidity of air at the back of the nose is usually around 100%, irrespective of how cold the air is we’re breathing in.

This shows the nose is very effective at making sure the air we breath becomes warm and wet before it reaches the lungs.

So how does it do this? Cold, dry air stimulates the nerves inside your nose, which send a message through your nerves to your brain. Your brain then responds to this impulse by increasing the blood flow to the nose, and these dilated blood vessels warm the air passing over them. Secondly, the nose is triggered to produce more secretions via the mucous glands in order to provide the moisture to humidify the air coming through.

Treatment is usually just to carry a hanky or tissue! from www.shutterstock.com

The cold, dry air also stimulates cells of your immune system (called “mast cells”) in your nose. These cells trigger the production of more liquid in your nose to make the air more moist. It’s estimated you can lose up to 300-400mL of fluid daily through your nose as it performs this function.

Heat and water loss are closely related: heating the air in the nasal cavities means the lining of the nasal cavity (mucosa) becomes cooler than core body temperature at the same time, water evaporates (becomes vapour) to make the air moist. Water evaporation, which requires large amounts of heat, takes heat from the nose, thus making it cooler.

In response, the blood flow to the nose increases further, as the task of warming the air that’s breathed in takes precedence over heat loss from the nose (the body’s normal response to cold is to shunt blood away from the surface to the deep vessels to minimise heat loss from the skin). So it’s a difficult balancing act to achieve the correct amount of heat and moisture lost from the nose.

When the compensatory mechanism is a little too overactive, moisture in excess of that needed to humidify this cold, dry air will drip from the nostrils. Mast cells are usually more sensitive in people with asthma and allergies, and blood vessel changes more reactive in those who are sensitive to environmental irritants and temperature changes. So nasal congestion and even sneezing can be triggered by the cold air.

Treatment is usually simply to carry some tissues or a handkerchief. Although the use of anticholinergic (blocks nerve impulses) and anti-inflammatory nasal sprays such as Atropine and Ipratropium have been trialled with some success.

Medical student Caitlin Saunders also contributed to this article.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


How to Prevent a Runny Nose in Cold Weather

This article was co-authored by Chris M. Matsko, MD. Dr. Chris M. Matsko is a retired physician based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With over 25 years of medical research experience, Dr. Matsko was awarded the Pittsburgh Cornell University Leadership Award for Excellence. He holds a BS in Nutritional Science from Cornell University and an MD from the Temple University School of Medicine in 2007. Dr. Matsko earned a Research Writing Certification from the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) in 2016 and a Medical Writing & Editing Certification from the University of Chicago in 2017.

There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 83% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status.

This article has been viewed 166,440 times.

A runny nose is a common occurrence in cold weather. It occurs because, as your nasal passages try to warm the air before it reaches your lungs, there is production of additional fluid. [1] X Research source Therefore, the way to prevent a runny nose in cold weather is to warm and moisten the air before it reaches your nose.


Watery Eyes Runny Nose

It is common to have watery eyes, runny nose, and sometimes, a headache when you have the common cold. However, these symptoms can be due other health problems as well. If you think your symptoms are unrelated to a common cold, this article will help you determine what the symptoms are caused by. It will also help you learn how to get rid of these symptoms.

What Causes Watery Eyes and Runny Nose?

1. Common Cold

The most common symptoms of a common cold are watery eyes, runny nose and sometimes, chest congestion. If you have these symptoms, they are most likely to be due to the common cold. The common cold is simply a viral infection that has taken up residence in the upper respiratory tract, mainly in the throat and nose. This is usually a harmless condition even though it can make you feel miserable. The main symptoms besides watery eyes runny nose are itchy throat, sore throat, congestion, cough, mild headache, sneezing, body aches, fatigue, and a low grade fever.

2. Hay Fever

Hay fever is usually also called allergic rhinitis. The symptoms are similar to that of a common cold. Besides the watery eyes, runny nose, and congestion, you may have itching of the eyes and nose, as well as sneezing. It is also common to have a "sinus headache" and blocked ears. Hay fever is usually caused by an abnormal response to an allergen, including dust mites, pollen, other outdoor allergens, mold, and saliva or skin flakes that come off of animals with feathers or fur (also known as pet dander).

3. Sinusitis

Sinusitis is also known as acute rhinosinusitis. It is caused by mucus buildup in the air pockets around your nasal passages. These air pockets can become swollen and inflamed, causing watery eyes runny nose. The mucus builds up inside the sinuses and you get the following symptoms:

  • Nasal blockage or obstruction, leading to problems breathing through the nose.
  • Thick yellow or greenish drainage from the nose or down the throat.
  • Decreased perception of taste and smell.
  • Swelling, tenderness, pain, and pressure in the area of the cheeks, eyes, behind the nose or in the forehead.
  • Coughing which can be worse during the nighttime.

You can also get other symptoms, such as headache, jaw and teeth pain, pain in the ears, tiredness, fever, and bad breath, also known as halitosis. Acute sinusitis is usually triggered by the common cold but it can be due to fungal infections, bacterial infections, or allergies.

4. Pink Eye

This is also known as conjunctivitis. It happens when there is inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva that lines the inner portion of the eyelids and the whites of the eyes. When the blood vessels in the conjunctiva are very inflamed, they become more obvious looking. The whites of the eyes turn pink or red in color. This disease is caused by a viral or bacterial infection but can be from allergies. You can get watery eyes, runny nose, and eye discharge. It can affect just one eye or both eyes at the same time. Common symptoms and signs include the following:

  • Itchiness of the eyes
  • Eye redness
  • Grittiness of the eye
  • Tearing of the eye
  • Crustiness around the eyes that cause your eyes to be stuck together in the morning

If the conjunctivitis is from allergies, watery eyes and runny nose are often seen along with the above symptoms.

5. Drug Allergy

This is when your immune system reacts to the intake of a medication. Any type of medication, including herbal medications, prescription medications, and over the counter medications, can cause this type of reaction. A drug allergy is more common with some medications than with others. The symptoms usually begin within one hour following ingestion of the drug, but it can occur up to several weeks later. The most common drug allergy symptoms include watery eyes, runny nose, rash, itching, fever, hives, shortness of breath, swelling of the body, wheezing and itchy eyes. It is rare to have anaphylaxis when taking a drug, but it can happen in some cases.

6. Other Causes

There are some diseases and illnesses that can lead to these symptoms. These include having respiratory syncytial virus, whooping cough, narcotic abuse, and nasal polyps.

How to Relieve Watery Eyes and Runny Nose

A runny nose and watery eyes usually mean that excessive mucus is being produced by your nasal passages. Fortunately, there are home remedies you can consider that will attack the symptoms of watery eyes runny nose, congestion in the nose, cough, and sneezing.

1. Try Heat

You can use steam in order to let the nose run clear. Steam heat can loosen up the mucus and can help flush out the irritants and infections causing the symptoms. It also helps keep your nasal cavities moist. You can also try taking a 10-15 minute shower or hot both. Use a facial steamer or even a dish of hot water, inhaling deeply to let the heat do its job. Do this twice a day for better relief of watery eyes and runny nose. You can also use a hot steam vaporizer in order to keep the air moist in the bedroom. This will loosen the mucus and help your nose drain. Make sure the room is aired out in the daytime to keep mold from growing in the room.

2. Use Saline Nasal Drop

You can use nasal sprays or drops made from salt water. This can relieve the nasal congestion and help get rid of the bacteria inside the nose. The mucus and irritants can be flushed out with the drops. You can make your own saline nasal drops by mixing ¼ tsp. of salt with 8 oz. of regular water. Drop a few mixtures into your nose. Another choice is to use ¼ tsp. of baking soda along with the salt. After you use the dropper, blow your nose carefully to clear out the solution and mucus.

3. Avoid Allergens

Allergens in your living space, such as dust mites, pollen, mold, and pet dander can cause watery eyes runny nose and nasal congestion. You need to get rid of these things in your house as well as irritants that can cause symptoms such as fumes, strong perfumes and paint smells.

4. Medications

You can take antihistamines to block the symptoms. They will help clear up the sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, and itchy eyes you see in allergies and colds. Antihistamines work by blocking histamine in the system and are available both by prescription and over the counter. There are antihistamines that can be sedating and those that will keep you awake.

5. See a Doctor

You should see the doctor if you get any of these symptoms besides watery eyes and runny nose:


Nasal polyps

Nasal polyps are soft yellow growths that can grow in your nose and sinuses. They have a jelly-like consistency, are made up of inflammatory cells, and can lead to a chronic runny nose, explains Dr. Voigt. If you have them, you might notice a decreased sense of smell, facial pressure, or even difficulty breathing sometimes (if the polyps grow). Docs aren&rsquot quite sure what causes them, but they appear to be associated with allergies and infections.

Runny nose remedy: See your doctor. Small, benign polyps can sometimes be treated with medications, such as steroids. But if they continue to grow or obstruct your breathing or sense of smell, there are surgeries that can be done to remove the polyps.


A runny nose could be a symptom of COVID-19

During the recent winter wave, we noticed that a runny nose was the second most commonly reported symptom in the app after headaches. And nearly 60% of people who tested positive for COVID-19 with loss of smell also reported having a runny nose.

So while we can say that many people with COVID-19 have a runny nose, it’s more difficult to say that having a runny nose is a definitive symptom of COVID-19 since they are so common, especially in the winter.

While symptoms like cough, fever and loss of smell are common in those who test positive for COVID-19, we found that having a runny nose and sneezing was only very slightly more common in people who tested positive for COVID-19 than those who tested negative.

The likelihood that your runny nose is caused by COVID-19 is influenced by how prevalent the disease is at the time.

Our data shows that when rates of COVID-19 are high, the chances that a runny nose is due to coronavirus infection is high. But when rates of COVID-19 are low, it’s less likely to be a symptom and more likely to be due to another cause such as a cold or allergy.

Even so, it’s always best to be on the safe side by self-isolating and getting tested if you develop a runny nose, especially in combination with any other key symptoms of COVID-19.

Right now, you can only get an NHS COVID test if you have a cough, fever or loss of smell. But you can get a test through the ZOE COVID Symptom Study if you log any of the known symptoms in the app.

Being alert to all the symptoms of COVID-19 and getting tested promptly will protect your loved ones and the wider community, helping to spot and contain new cases and bringing the pandemic to an end.


What does it mean when you have a cold nose?

It is normal for the hands, feet, nose, and ears to feel cold before other parts of the body. This is because it usually takes longer for blood to circulate to these extremities, especially in cold temperatures.

A person can have a cold nose for several reasons besides. Often, it is not a cause for worry. But, in some cases, it may be a sign of an underlying health condition.

There are various reasons why someone might have a cold nose. They include:

The body’s response to cold

Share on Pinterest The nose does not have a lot of insulating fat and will be one of the first body parts that feels cold.

The body conserves heat and energy by reducing blood flow to the extremities in cold temperatures or weather. Instead, the blood is directed toward the vital organs to keep them warm and to allow them to function properly.

The reduced blood flow to the hands, feet, ears, and nose causes them to feel cooler than, for example, the stomach or chest, as a result.

The nose is likely to feel cold first when temperatures dip because it is composed mainly of cartilage tissue and does not have a lot of insulating fat.

Underactive thyroid

An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones that control the way the body uses energy.

Metabolism slows to conserve heat and energy without this hormone. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism, aside from sensitivity to cold, include:

An autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis damages the thyroid gland and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.

Other causes of hypothyroidism include:

  • surgical removal of the thyroid gland
  • congenital hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid is present at birth of the thyroid or thyroiditis

Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease causes excessive narrowing of blood vessels, which results in little or no blood flow in the extremities.

It is usually triggered by exposure to cold or even stress. The disorder usually affects the fingers and toes, but it can also occur in the nose and ears.

The skin may turn white and then blue, briefly, during an attack. The affected areas may turn red and be accompanied by throbbing, tingling or numbness once the blood flow returns.

It is not clear what causes Raynaud’s disease. But diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can cause a more severe form of the condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Exposure to extreme cold

Being in cold temperatures, for example, during outdoor sports, can result in a cold nose.

When prolonged exposure causes the body to lose heat faster than it can generate it, the result is hypothermia . This occurs when the body’s heat is lower than the normal body temperature of 98.6°F or 37°C.

A cold nose could signal the early stages of frostnip or frostbite after prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures, such as freezing water or wind.

  • numbness
  • reduced blood flow to hands and feet
  • tingling or stinging
  • aching
  • bluish or pale, waxy skin

Frostbite commonly affects extremities such as the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, or toes.

Hypothermia, frostnip, and frostbite are potentially dangerous conditions, and it is important to seek medical help immediately if they occur.

A stressful workload

A cold nose could also be a sign of working too hard.

One study found a direct link between facial temperature and stress from a challenging workload.

The scientists who studied the neurological functions of 14 volunteers, found that the more mental pressures they faced, the colder their noses became.

The nose temperature dropped by an average of 1°C (33.8°F) as the mental tasks became more challenging. The research suggested this could be the result of blood flow from the face being diverted to the cerebral cortex.

People who have a cold nose when the weather turns chilly can keep warm by doing the following:

  • layering clothes for extra warmth
  • wearing hats or balaclavas to reduce heat loss from the head
  • wearing scarves to prevent exposure of the nose to the cold
  • using gloves or mittens and suitable footwear with warm socks

All these methods help keep the body warm and the blood flowing to the extremities, including the nose.

Hypothyroidism

People who think their cold nose could be caused by hypothyroidism should see a doctor. A physical examination and blood tests can determine if they have the disorder. Treatment involves taking thyroid hormone medication.

Raynaud’s disease

There is no cure for Raynaud’s disease and Raynaud’s phenomenon. Adopting simple lifestyle changes can, however, help avoid triggering an attack.

  • Wearing warm clothing when in cold temperatures.
  • Using gloves or mittens when taking food out of the refrigerator or freezer if this causes a reaction.
  • Putting hand and foot warmers in mittens, boots, socks, or pockets.
  • Warming up a vehicle before driving in cold weather.
  • Taking medicines that improve blood flow to fingers and toes or surgery in some cases.

Some medicines, such as beta-blockers and certain migraine drugs, can cause attacks. People should consult a doctor if this is the case.

Hypothermia

People who show symptoms of hypothermia, frostnip or frostbite should seek medical treatment immediately.

If someone shows visible signs of hypothermia, they should be immediately moved into a warm room or shelter. Any clothing that is wet should be taken off, and the individual should be kept dry and wrapped in a warm blanket.

They should be given a warm beverage to help increase their body temperature, but this must not include any alcohol.

People who show signs of frostnip or frostbite should not be allowed to walk, as this may damage the tissue of their feet or toes if these are affected.

Their cold bodies should not be rubbed or massaged, and heating pads or heat lamps should not be used either. They can be helped to immerse the affected areas of their body in warm, but not hot, water.

Stress

According to a 2012 survey, 65 percent of Americans cited work as a main source of stress.

Those who think their cold nose is caused by work-related stress can take steps to manage these pressures.

  • Developing healthful responses: Turn to exercise or a hobby instead of fast food or alcohol when dealing with stress at work.
  • Establishing work-life boundaries: Do not check work email in the evening.
  • Get support: From friends and family or stress management resources if offered by the employer.
  • Take time to recharge: Take a vacation to relax and unwind.

A cold nose should not be a cause for worry in many instances. It is normal for a nose to feel cold during chilly weather. It may simply mean someone needs to wrap up more when the temperatures drop.

A constantly cold nose could, however, be a sign of an underlying health condition, even in warm weather. It is recommended to see a doctor if the symptoms continue and cause pain and discomfort.

People should avoid smoking as this narrows the arteries and makes clots more likely to form, which can cause circulation problems, a heart attack, or stroke.