If you live in New England, you're no stranger to cold weather. As soon as the temps drop, we instinctively break out our winter coats and boxes of tissues and prepare for the inevitable runny nose.
You know the feeling. You're walking your dog, shoveling snow, sledding in the backyard and you feel the unpleasant sensation of your nose dripping. No matter how much you sniffle and try to stifle it, your nose just won't stop running.
But what is it about the cold air that seems to turn our noses into faucets? Dr. Jeffrey Monroe, Ear, Nose & Throat Specialist explains why the cold air makes your nose run.
Our noses have the following two main functions: Filtering and Moisturizing
- Filtering: The air we breathe must be filtered of germs and particles before it gets into the body. Our noses have hairs at the opening of our nostrils and a sticky mucus coating covering the nasal lining, or inside of our nose. The hairs and mucus catch particles such as pollution and airborne germs from people around us with colds.
- Moisturizing: The air we breathe must be moisturized before entering the body. The lining of the nose and sinuses, known as the mucus membrane, produces a large quantity of mucus everyday; approximately 1-2 quarts more or less. This mucus coats the nasal passage providing moisture for the air we breathe through our nose. As air passes through our nose it pulls moisture from the mucus.
Cold air holds less moisture than warm air so the air we breathe in the winter is much dryer than it is in warmer months. To make matters worse, when we heat the cold air in our homes or at work, it dries the air out even further. To make up for the extra dry air, our noses and sinuses must produce extra mucus to help maintain health.
On a normal day, you probably don't notice the 1-2 quarts of mucus that your nose and sinuses produce. That's because this mucus normally passes backwards through our nose and goes down the back of our throats to our stomachs where it’s digested. The germs in the mucus are then killed and the mucus is recycled. In the cold weather, however, this process is hindered.
The lining cells of the nasal passage have tiny hairs called cilia that propel the mucus to the back. In very cold air, they don’t work as well. When this extra mucus is simply too much for the nose to deal with and it doesn’t pass backwards quickly enough, it will collect in the nasal passages and will run out the front causing your nose to drip. The colder the air, the more prone we are to this happening. There's no need to worry though--this is a very common occurrence that most people experience in cold conditions.
There's another downside, besides the runny nose and need for extra tissues. When the mucus, and the germs collected in it, can't move backwards, it remains in the nose longer and increases the chances of the germs we inhale getting a foothold in our nose. That’s one reason why we tend to get more colds in the winter.
At Advanced Specialty Care, our Ear, Nose & Throat physicians are available for adult and pediatric acute care on a same day, call-in basis at most of our locations in Fairfield and Litchfield County. We also treat problems of the head and neck, including ear infections, tonsillitis, sleep apnea, deviated septum, silent reflux and work side by side with Allergy & Asthma specialists, Audiologists and more.
If you have questions about or would like to schedule an appointment at one of our convenient office locations in Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk, Ridgefield or Southbury, please call our office at
(203) 830-4700 or simply click here to fill out an appointment request form.
Advanced Specialty Care is a multi-specialty private practice caring for patients in Fairfield County, CT for over 30 years. We are committed to the well-being of our patients. In addition to Ear, Nose & Throat, we have expertise in Head and Neck Surgery, Allergy & Asthma, Audiology, Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery, Dermatology and Skin Care and Hand Surgery. Our six, convenient Connecticut offices include, Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk, Ridgefield, Southbury and Stamford.