Many people, including myself, have trouble
exercising in cold weather. So, you know, you go outside, you know, for a run outside
in the freezing cold and the cold air causes you to have coughing fits. Or, perhaps you
get a sore throat. If that happens to you, you’re not alone. Many of us have the same
problem. In fact it’s estimated that anywhere from 4 to 20% of people have this complaint.
The actual cause of it has not always been agreed upon, but for many years, the prevailing
theory was that this was caused by exercise-induced bronchioconstriction or EIB. That is a which
is a narrowing of the airways that’s much like an asthma attack, but in this case brought
on by cold air. Now, EIB is, of course, common in people with asthma, and it’s actually sometimes
called exercise-induced asthma. However, many of the sufferers of EIB have no history of
asthma. And EIB is also more common in children and young adults. In fact, I used to get severe
sore throats from running in the cold when I was young and that doesn’t happen to me
now that I’m older. And it’s hard to say why that is. Um, the higher incidence of EIB in
young…in the young…may simply relate to their higher levels of physical activity.
That makes sense: I used to run everywhere when I was a kid. I never stopped running.
Uh, and, the symptoms of it, ah, just so you know what I’m talking about, include wheezing,
or shortness of breath, a feeling of tightness in your chest, and hypoxia, which is just
not getting enough oxygen. Um, being out of breath. Sometimes, however, the only symptom
is a cough and a sore throat, like I was talking about before. EIB theory has been the main
theory for many years, but it’s been debated. EIB claims that it’s the cold that causes
the problem, but others have claimed that it is the dryness of the air, not the coldness,
that causes the problem. You know, when it gets very very cold outside, the air becomes
very dry. Perhaps this dries out the airways and irritates them, leading to the symptoms.
A study in the Journal “Chest” by Kenneth Rundell and others tested this idea by using
dry medical-grade bottled air, at both cold and room temperature. So, they had 22 people
with suspected EIB exercise while using this air. Turns out the temperature of the air
didn’t cause a heightened response, so the researchers concluded that moisture loss due
to the air was the cause of the problem…due to the dry air. So, the cells of the airways
are very sensitive to dehydration. I’ll link that study below, in the description. If the
cold dry air is drying out the cells of your airway and causing this coughing or sore throat,
or tight chest, or other symptoms, the question, of course, is should I be worried? You know,
should I avoid exercising in the cold in case I’m doing permanent damage? Well, unless the
problem is very severe, it’s not really going to hurt you and you can finish your workout,
your run, out in the cold, ah, without fear your lungs are going to be damaged. Rundell
suggested that there are some homemade solutions, you know like, you could wear a moistened
scarf or other cloth around the mouth to hydrate the incoming air. Now this sounds terrible
to me out in the cold, but maybe for somebody who must train for their sport in the cold
and is having this problem, it’s necessary. I can’t see casual exercisers doing that.
Ah, there are also masks that could be worn. Again, wearing a mask out in the cold while
you exercise sounds terrible to me, but, for some people, maybe. Ah, medications, for severe
problems, could also be used. You know, but athletes like skiers and runners, they may
need to consider the state of legality for steroid asthma meds, or inhalers, or similar
medications. You know, the legality in their sport. The take home, though, is that unless
your symptoms are very severe, you’re OK to just go ahead and exercise out in the cold,
and con… and consider the symptoms, when they occur, to be an irritating inconvenience,
but not much more. I do want to remind you, though, that this should not be taken as medical
advice. I’m just giving you the information, ah, to the best of my ability, that we have.
But, anytime you have symptoms, you have doubts about whether you should exercise, you should
always consult your doctor and get his or her take on it, before you do go out and run,
or ski, or what have you, in the cold.