Breathing in Cold Air Hurts… But Why?

If you’re one the few people on Earth that’s motivated to exercise outdoors in cold weather:

  1. You’re impressive
  2. You’re crazy
  3. You might be wondering why you feel a burning sensation in your throat when you breathe

Runners, skiiers, and snowboarders often experience pain while breathing during their outdoor routines, and even people who aren’t exercising can feel the pain if they’re out in the cold long enough. The explanation for why this happens? It’s surprisingly simple. The cold temperatures don’t cause the hurting sensation, but rather the dryness of the air.

When air travels down the trachea, it needs to warm up to 98 degrees (AKA your body temperature) and rise to 100% humidity.

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Cells lining your trachea are in charge of using their moisture to heat up and humidify the air, but the air is so dry during winter that it can quickly deplete your trachea’s water supply. The lack of moisture remaining in your throat causes irritation that feels like a burning pain.

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Now you have two options. You can stop exercising/running outdoors, or you can solve your breathing problems with these easy steps:

  • Wear a mask or scarf over your mouth to humidify the air a little bit before it goes down your trachea
  • Breathe through your nose instead of your mouth because the nose has a larger surface area to warm up the air
  • Stay hydrated so your trachea has less potential for getting dehydrated

Interested in finding out more? Watch the video below:

 

You now are equipped with the knowledge to safely exercise outdoors in the cold! Run free, you crazy exercise-lovers, and stay safe out there.


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8 Comments


  1. So true! I have had this experience of the pain while breathing being outside in the cold weather, and after wrapping my scarf over my nose and mouth, I could breathe better. You have explained why this happens to a person, all I can say is “Thank you”

  2. After running numerous tests including a complete cardiac work up, I was found to have severe anemia. Once that was resolved, I have no longer had exercise induced issues with breathing in the cold.

  3. When I was a skinny little boy, I would get pain while breathing after swimming in the ocean for too long. I thought I had later learned was due to the cold water on my chest. I air was certainly humid enough.

    1. That does not appear to match any of the reasoning mentioned in this brief article…. What ABOUT anemia would cause you to have breathing pain in cold weather??