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Why does my Nose Run When It is Cold Outside?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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The nose is a complex organ, meant not only to help us smell wonderful (or not so wonderful) smells but also to act as a filtration device for incoming air. It might be surprising to learn that your nose secretes, when you’re healthy, about 32 ounces (0.94 liters) of mucus every day. This doesn’t tend to make your nose run; instead most of this mucus falls to the back of the throat and is eventually swallowed. These secretions help to humidify, warm up, and filter incoming air, in conjunction with the small hairs in the nose.

So why does a nose run when it is cold? This is an excellent question, which fortunately has a fairly simple explanation. Underneath the glands that secrete mucus, you have huge amounts of tiny blood vessels, which help supply these glands. In cold weather, these blood vessels dilate or grow larger. This means you have more blood supply to your nose, which in part protects your nose from the cold, but it also means your nose will begin producing greater amounts of mucus and liquid.

Additionally, you will notice more mucus when it is cold because the nose has to work overtime to warm up air that is inhaled, which is coming in at much lower temperatures than normal. You might even notice a runny nose when it is cold only by a few degrees. Temperatures just a few degrees below room temperature can make the nose run.

There’s also the issue as mentioned above of normal mucus and secretion production. At room temperature, your nose is already producing 4 cups (0.94 liters) of fluid and mucus a day. Only so much of it can fall to the back of the throat and be swallowed. When mucus and secretion production increases to warm the air, you will see the nose run because you have excess secretions. In other words, some of it has to drip out the front because you have an excess supply. When you get into a warmer room a few moments later, you won’t notice your nose continuing to run because it has warmed up and the blood vessels become more constricted.

Observing a runny nose in the cold has led many to believe that cold weather causes illness. This isn’t actually the case, and the nose helps through filtration to try to avoid viruses. Of course it doesn’t avoid them all. Being out in cold weather for a few minutes may actually help decrease congestion a little since mucus will be naturally released through the front of your nose, allowing you to have a few good blows. Usually, you’re just as stuffed up again once you’ve gone back indoors.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon928700 — On Jan 29, 2014

At least now I know what happens when my nose runs and a little blood comes out. Thank you very much!

By anon310781 — On Dec 26, 2012

A drippy nose doesn't directly cause illness, but it does mean lots of unconscious nose-wiping, which when combined with handshakes and touching of shared surfaces (doorknobs etc.) leads to greatly increased transmission of colds from sick to healthy people.

By LisaLou — On Oct 31, 2012

I find it interesting that cold weather and hot food both make my nose run. If I go outside in cold weather, my nose will run. If I sit down to some hot or spicy food, my nose will also run.

When my nose runs like this, I know what is causing it and don't worry about a cold coming on. Usually when I feel like I am getting a cold, I have other symptoms that go along with a runny nose, like a sore throat and sneezing.

By anon300762 — On Oct 31, 2012

So, what's the cure? Besides tissues? How can one prevent his nose from running in cold weather? Most people I know do not have this issue, but I do, and the people posting here do, so don't just reply saying it's a good thing. How do we prevent it?

By John57 — On Oct 31, 2012

In the winter I always have some tissue in the pocket of every coat I own. I don't have this problem with a runny nose during the warmer months, but my nose always runs when it is cold outside. It can be kind of embarrassing if I don't have something to wipe my nose with, so I am in the habit of making sure I have tissue wherever I go.

By cloudel — On Oct 27, 2012

I take a walk in the park during my lunch break every day, so I always carry lots of tissue in my pockets. Any time it's the least bit cool out, my nose starts to run.

Other people make use of the walking track at lunch, too, so it is embarrassing to have mucus dripping off my nose in front of them. I just reach for a tissue when it starts to flow, and if I'm approaching someone, I turn my back to them while wiping it out.

I remember having an extra runny nose on days when it snowed. I guess maybe the colder it is, the runnier my nose becomes!

By healthy4life — On Oct 26, 2012

@closerfan12 – It has to be more than the average daily production when you are healthy. Last time I had a cold, it got so bad that I had to plug my nostrils with tissue, and still, I had to change out the tissue every fifteen minutes, because it was fully soaked!

I would imagine that different people produce different amounts of mucus when they are sick, as well as when they are healthy. I've read that one factor is the size of your nose. People with larger noses produce more mucus.

I can't imagine going outdoors with a cold, because it already seems like your nose can't possibly run anymore than it already is. Maybe this is why most sick people stay indoors.

By DylanB — On Oct 26, 2012

That is strange. I would have thought that cold temperatures would make your blood vessels constrict instead of dilate.

By feasting — On Oct 25, 2012

A runny nose is one of the worst common cold symptoms. However, I think that nasal congestion is even more terrible.

So, if I've passed the stage of having an extra runny nose and progressed to sinus congestion, I go outside in the winter and enjoy being able to actually breathe for awhile. Since the cold weather really doesn't make you sicker, I stay out there for as long as I can stand it.

The air is so dry indoors in winter because of the heater, so stepping out is a relief. The mucus that starts to run moisturizes my dry nasal passages, and I can actually breathe, even when no decongestant offered any relief.

By anon229969 — On Nov 16, 2011

Thank you! I have wondered about that question ever since I was young growing up in North Dakota!

By anon135539 — On Dec 19, 2010

Could part of the cause be condensation in the nose?

By musicshaman — On Sep 27, 2010

I wonder if that works the same way as a chest cold remedy, because it seems like every time I go outside with a chest cold I start coughing up stuff. Is it somehow related to the coldness, like the runny nose is?

If so I am definitely not shelling out for common cold remedies anymore, I'll just go outside!

By closerfan12 — On Sep 27, 2010

Wow -- I never knew that the average person produced so much mucus a day! That makes me wonder how much a person would make when they get the common cold.

I assume that if you have a cold, you produce a lot more, since it seems like you just get continually stuffy nose, but how much more is it? And does the amount of mucus production vary between the different kinds of cold viruses?

By tomb — On Dec 01, 2008

runny nose in cold - druggist says "the cold weather often causes our noses to run. They run because the little hairs inside our noses work best in warm temperatures to do their job of moving fluid up to the sinuses. In cold weather, these hairs become a bit paralyzed so the secretions go downwards and seep out of the nose"

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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