Can Cold Air Freeze Lungs?

We are now getting into the real cold days of winter and it’s becoming harder and harder to train consistently. Problems include terrible footing, cold skin, and frozen lungs? According to some runners (and non-runners) it is dangerous to train in the cold because the air could freeze your lungs. Is this true?

The good news is that our bodies are highly adapted to living in cold weather and there are many built-in protections that ensure that our lungs will not freeze from cold air. First, air is immediately heated up when it reaches your nose and mouth due to mucous. Ever wonder why you nose runs in cold weather? It is a defense mechanism that helps to heat up air before it reaches your lungs. Due to the importance of mucous and the amount produced, it is very important to stay well-hydrated when running in the cold.

Second, the lungs have a huge supply of blood. Being one of the most critical organs in the body, there are numerous blood vessels and capillaries that provide a constant supply of warm blood to the lungs that keeps them warm. Any cold air that makes it to the lungs is immediately warmed up and presents no threat of freezing. With that said, running in cold air does present some risks to certain people who have asthma.

Cold air is one of the most common “triggers” for asthmatics that causes the bronchial tubes to constrict and makes breathing very difficult. The reason why cold air is a trigger is not entirely understood. However, there is no doubt that the hyper-responsive airways of asthmatics can react suddenly and painfully and, in some cases cause a life threatening condition. Therefore, while most people do not have to worry about their lungs freezing from cold air, asthmatics must take special care to avoid the cold air trigger.

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