The most annoying thing for me about being cold is a runny nose. Is there an advantage to having a runny nose when cold? What does having a runny nose achieve?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ possible duplicate of What causes a 'stuffy' or 'runny' nose when you have a cold? $\endgroup$ – Léo Léopold Hertz 준영 Apr 29 '14 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ I added a duplicate badge to this question because I think the other question is better formulated. We do not get runny nose in the cold. We get runny noses when we have a cold. That is a big difference. I see this question as a very simplified question in Physiology which aims to explain difficult concept in Pathophysiology by concepts in Physiology. $\endgroup$ – Léo Léopold Hertz 준영 Apr 29 '14 at 18:15
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ I'd have to disagree with that. I get a runny nose when it's cold, even if I don't have a cold. $\endgroup$ – jarlemag Apr 29 '14 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ @jarlemag Yes, I agree that some people do get easily runny nose in the cold. Badly formulated sentence from me. My point is that the cause is not the cold weather. It is a secondary thing for the runny nose. Some people however do not get runny nose in the cold. The cold weather is not the cause itself - only a mechanism or a condition that triggers the runny nose. $\endgroup$ – Léo Léopold Hertz 준영 Apr 29 '14 at 18:21
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Well, the important thing is that we both agree that someone can get a runny nose, when they are in a cold environment. I don't see a need to argue about the semantics of "triggering condition" vs. "cause". :-) Anyway, I vote to keep open as not a duplicate. $\endgroup$ – jarlemag Apr 29 '14 at 18:24

There are two reasons for this:

  1. Nasal mucus helps warm inhaled air before it reaches the lungs. In cold weather, the mucus tends to dry out, so the membranes increase their production.
  2. At the same time, exhaled air is warmer than the surrounding air, so it contains more moisture than the outside air can hold. This moisture condenses around the tip of the nose.

Explanation found here.

So there's no particular advantage to getting a runny nose; it's just a normal reaction occurring in extreme conditions.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Just to add, cold air has a lower capacity to solve water. Hence why cold air tends to be drier than warm air. $\endgroup$ – Armatus Aug 14 '12 at 17:42
  • $\begingroup$ I do not agree with this answer. These are mechanisms, not the cause. I added a duplicate badge to this question because I think the other question is better formulated. $\endgroup$ – Léo Léopold Hertz 준영 Apr 29 '14 at 18:14

Rhinorrhea, or runny nose is a response used by our nasal membrane to get rid of foreign particles including pollen dust and infection. As such we get runny noses when we have a cold, allergy or are exposed to high densities of air-born particles. Cold air may irritate our nasal membranes, both because of temperature differences relative to our body and due to the lower amounts of moisture cold air holds. Cold air thus also results in a runny nose.

  • $\begingroup$ It would be great if you added some references to support your response! $\endgroup$ – Bez Jan 1 '15 at 18:39

There are definite advantages to getting a runny nose in cold weather. Rhinoviruses prefer cold weather and deploying large amounts of mucus is a good way to trap them (instead of letting them get in to infect the nose). Additionally, severe dry nose can cause nosebleeds and the mucus helps prevent this from happening.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.