Cold Weather and Runny Noses

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Sometimes you may wish you could turn your runny nose off like a faucet. But that drip actually serves several important purposes in protecting your health. The moisture protects your mucous membranes, traps germs, and keeps foreign substances out of your nasal passages and body.

Woman blowing nose in Fall season
Guido Mieth / Moment / Getty Images

While your body produces between one and two quarts of mucus every day, certain conditions can increase that amount. These include allergens like pollen or mold in the air, common cold viruses (rhinoviruses), irritation, and exposure to cold weather.

This article discusses why you get a runny nose in cold weather and how to prevent it.

Vasomotor Rhinitis

If you have a runny nose in cold weather, with no other symptoms of allergies or illness, it could be vasomotor rhinitis. This is a type of nonallergic rhinitis caused by changes in temperature, humidity, and exposure to strong odors and perfumes.

If you have vasomotor rhinitis, your body will produce clear nasal discharge. It may drain from the front of the nose, run down the back of the throat, or result in nasal congestion.

Why Temperature Matters

Your body has built-in ways of protecting itself when needed.

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body produces additional mucus to warm and moisturize the air coming through your nasal passages. This protects the mucous membranes in your nose from damage due to the dry, cold air. It also protects the bronchioles (delicate air sacs) in your lungs from damage.

In addition, a runny nose due to cold temperatures is a phenomenon similar to condensation. While the air you breathe in may be cold, your body temperature warms the air. When you exhale, you release that warm, moist air into the environment (which is cold).

As these two temperatures meet, droplets of water are produced. That water drips down from your nose along with the mucus they mix with.

Recap

Your body produces extra mucus when it's cold outside to warm and moisturize your nasal passages and protect your lungs.

How to Prevent Cold-Weather Runny Nose

The only way to prevent a runny nose from developing due to cold exposure is to avoid breathing in cold air. One way to do that is by covering your nose and mouth with a wrap or scarf while outdoors. This allows the air to become warm and moist before you inhale it.

Vasomotor rhinitis will not usually get better with antihistamines, which are medications to treat allergies. It may get better by using a nasal steroid or nasal antihistamine spray. The best medication when your nose “runs like a faucet" is Atrovent (ipratropium bromide) nasal spray.

Atrovent works by drying up the mucus-producing cells in the nose. It can be used as needed since the spray will start working within an hour. Atrovent nasal spray is available by prescription only. Check with your healthcare provider to see if this medication is right for you.

Finally, use a humidifier while indoors. Even if the temperature in your home is mild, the air is generally drier during cold-weather months. Humidification can help keep your mucous membranes optimally moistened.

Recap

In cold weather, you can help prevent a runny nose by covering your nose and mouth with a scarf. This helps make the air warm and moist before you breathe in. Your doctor may also prescribe a nasal spray like Atrovent to help decrease excess mucus.

Summary

It's common to get a runny nose when it's cold outside. That's because your body is making extra mucus to moisturize and protect your mucous membranes in the cold, dry air.

To help ease your symptoms, keep your nose and mouth warm when you're outside by using a scarf. Ask your doctor about a nasal spray to help decrease nasal mucus. Or consider using a humidifier indoors to keep your mucous membranes moistened during the cold weather.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. Post-nasal drip.

  2. Leader P, Geiger Z. Vasomotor rhinitis. StatPearls.