Why does my nose run more in winter?

Here in Australia, winter has officially arrived and settled in. This means cold days, colder nights, and rather chilly mornings……and for those who train outdoors, particularly cyclists and runners, it means one more thing. Your nose seems to run a hell of a lot more!

Lincoln Grand Prix 2016

Whenever we exercise outdoors, our nose produces mucus. The bushman’s hanky and snot rockets are a common sight amongst seasoned athletes. This happens all year round, but as the weather gets colder, the amount of gunk produced by our noses increases quite a bit…….but why?

Other than the obvious job of simply breathing, our noses have two primary functions. The first one is to filter the air we breathe before it gets to our lungs. Things such as dust and pollen are caught by our nasal hairs and mucus in our sinuses, in order to limit how much gets into the lungs…..which we then sneeze or blow out. Asthma and hay fever sufferers will probably be more familiar with this, especially during spring.

snotrocket

The other role our sinuses plays is to warm and moisten the air we breathe. When colder, drier air hits the lungs, it can cause a bit of irritation. So as we breathe through our nose, the warm, moist environment of our sinuses warms the air we are taking in, as well as providing a bit of extra moisture to it. This way, the air causes less irritation when it eventually hits the lungs.

Obviously, during the spring and summer months, the air we breathe is already quite warm. But as the days get colder, what we are breathing in needs to be warmed up more and more. The best way for our bodies to do this is for the sinuses to produce more mucus! The air passing over this is warmed more effectively, meaning its not just ice cold air getting to our lungs. The colder air in winter is often a bit drier too, so the extra mucus helps to add a bit more moisture to the air we are taking in.

2013 Tour de France - 07.16.13 - Stage 18

But constantly having to blow your nose while out training can sometimes be annoying, so is there anything you can do to limit this? Breathing through your mouth can reduce the amount of air passing through your sinuses, but this also means your lungs might get a little bit irritated from the cold air. Wearing some form of face warmer can help to warm the air as it passes through the fabric, before it gets to your sinuses, so this can help too.

Nasal decongestants can be used to reduce the amount of mucus your body is producing, hence they will dry up your sinuses. But this really isn’t the best of ideas….especially since some of these products are banned for use in competition!

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Of course, the best thing you can do is accept the fact that your body is working efficiently. Blow a few more snot rockets and be sure to clean your training gear well after you find yourself wiping your nose more often!

But remember to pay attention to your surroundings when blowing your nose, especially if you are on a time trial bike travelling at over 50kph. It may not end so well. (All the best to Chris Froome for a full, speedy recovery!)

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