Why Do You Experience a Burning Sensation in Your Lungs When You Run in the Cold?

Quck answer

When you run in the cold, your lungs may burn due to a combination of factors. Firstly, the cold air you inhale can cause irritation and inflammation in your airways. This is because cold air is drier and can strip away the moisture that helps to protect your lungs. Additionally, the increased respiratory rate during exercise can also contribute to the burning sensation. As you breathe faster, your lungs have less time to warm and humidify the air. This can lead to dryness and irritation, causing your lungs to burn. It is important to warm up properly and consider wearing a scarf or mask to help warm and moisten the air before it enters your lungs.


When the bell rings, you eagerly head towards the playground. As you rush towards the door, your teacher reminds you to grab a jacket because it’s freezing outside. The cold winter weather has arrived, bringing frigid temperatures.

Despite the cold, you hardly feel it as you engage in an energetic game of chase around the swings and merry-go-round. In fact, you start to sweat underneath your layers of clothing. But you keep on running, finding the exercise invigorating after spending hours in the classroom.

Just as recess is coming to an end, you pause to catch your breath. As you bend over and take deep breaths of the cold air, you notice a tightness in your chest and a slight burning sensation in your lungs.

This seems a bit strange. Shouldn’t cold air make your lungs feel cold? Instead, running or exercising in the cold often leads to a burning sensation in your chest. But why?

Don’t worry! Breathing in cold air isn’t harmful. Your lungs won’t freeze from the cold air. In fact, your body has special mechanisms in place to ensure that the air reaching your lungs is warm enough and contains enough moisture.

When you inhale cold air, the tiny blood vessels in your trachea (also known as the windpipe) and nasal cavity warm up the air to match your body temperature. At the same time, the cells lining these areas release moisture to humidify the air before it enters your lungs. This is crucial because cold winter air tends to be dry.

Unfortunately, when the cells lining your trachea release moisture, they become dehydrated and irritated. This leads to the burning sensation you often experience when running or exercising in cold weather.

If you’re breathing heavily and taking quick, shallow breaths, your body may struggle to keep up with the process of warming and humidifying the cold air you’re inhaling. In such cases, some of the air you breathe may be cooler than your body temperature. This cool air can also irritate your lungs and cause your airways to narrow.

In certain individuals, the narrowing of the airways can even trigger asthma symptoms. Doctors refer to this as exercise-induced asthma, which can occur in people who don’t typically experience asthma symptoms.

If you plan to run or exercise in the cold, experts recommend taking a few precautions to protect yourself. Firstly, make sure to stay hydrated. Even in cold weather, you still sweat and your body requires sufficient hydration to provide moisture for humidifying the air you breathe.

Additionally, try taking long, deep breaths during exercise. This will help your body keep up with the task of warming and humidifying the cool air. Lastly, consider wearing a scarf around your throat and mouth. A scarf can help retain the moisture that would otherwise be lost when you exhale. When you inhale this trapped moisture, your body has less work to do in humidifying the cool air.

Try It Out

We hope today’s Wonder of the Day left you breathless! Take a deep breath and then explore the following activities with a friend or family member:

  • Like you discovered in today’s Wonder of the Day, frigid temperatures can make it more challenging to breathe and exercise. What other difficulties can arise from cold weather? Have you ever taken the time to consider how much the weather affects the ease of our favorite activities? Ponder this today! Create a list of ten outdoor activities that you enjoy. Are you a fan of hiking, swimming, playing soccer, or climbing trees? Once your list is complete, reflect on each activity individually. Which ones are most impacted by the weather? Are there any outdoor activities that are minimally affected by weather conditions? Share your list with friends and family to gather their perspectives.
  • Have you ever wondered about the capacity of your lungs? Today, you can satisfy your curiosity by conducting a simple science experiment at home. Visit What Is Your Lung Volume? online for instructions. You will only need a few pieces of equipment and assistance from an adult friend or family member. Enjoy the scientific exploration of measuring your lung capacity!
  • Does wearing a scarf while running in the cold truly enhance your breathing? According to experts, it does, but we invite you to test this theory yourself. Naturally, you will need cold weather and your running shoes. Additionally, you will need a scarf. Begin by running in cold weather for a few minutes without a scarf. Do you observe any changes in your breathing? Continue running without a scarf until you notice tightness in your chest or a slight burning sensation in your lungs. Take a break and relax for a bit, then prepare to run a bit longer. This time, wrap a scarf around your neck and mouth. Do you notice a difference? Enlist the help of a friend or family member to compare your findings!

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