Is Breathing Cold Air Dangerous?
Breathing cold air isn’t dangerous. Your body has special mechanisms in place to make sure that all the air that reaches your lungs is plenty warm and full of moisture.
When you breathe in cold air, tiny blood vessels in your trachea (more commonly known as the windpipe) and your nasal cavity warm the air to your body temperature. At the same time, cells that line these areas give up their moisture to humidify the air that’s about to enter your lungs. This is important because cold winter air tends to be very dry.
Unfortunately, when those cells lining the trachea give up their moisture, they become dehydrated and irritated. This causes the burning sensation you often feel when you run or exercise in cold weather.
If you’re breathing really hard in quick, short breaths, it can be difficult for your body to keep up with the process of warming and humidifying the cold air coming in. When this happens, some of the air you breathe may be cooler than body temperature. This cool air can also irritate the lungs and cause your airways to constrict.
In some people, the narrowing of their airways can even induce the symptoms of asthma. Doctors refer to this occurrence as exercise-induced asthma, and it can occur in people who otherwise never experience the symptoms of asthma.