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This Is Why Your Nose Won’t Stop Running During Winter Workouts

With the proper gear and the right attitude, wintertime running can be magical. What’s not magical: the free-flowing fountain of snot that typically accompanies these workouts. Luckily, there are several things you can do before, during, and after a run to aid your sniffling sniffer.

But first, some background on exactly why this happens: The membranes in our nasal passages help humidify air as it enters, explains Clifford Stark, an osteopathic physician specializing in sports medicine. In the winter, the air is colder and drier than summer months, so the nose has to work doubly hard at humidifying. Exercising exacerbates the issue, since heavier breathing dramatically increases exposure to the cold, dry air. The result? Your schnoz goes into overdrive trying to provide enough moisture and thus dumps extra mucus (in sometimes a seemingly endless supply). Here are Stark’s—and three other experts’—tips for navigating these sticky situations.


The night before a chilly al fresco run, bust out your humidifier and leave it on while you sleep. “This will keep the membranes moist so that they will be healthier before going out into the cold, dry air,” explains Stark. And if you forget to turn it on overnight, you can still use it an hour or two before your run.

While there’s no hard data supporting the benefits of humidifying immediately before exercise, “it follows the same general principles that it will probably help provide some moisturizing protection to the membranes, and certainly shouldn't have any detrimental effects,” says Stark.


The neti pot—an irrigation tool used to flush out the nasal cavity with saline solution—can help clear and moisturize a stuffy nose so that it’s less likely to run incessantly once exposed to the elements. Jon Grant, a runner and St. Vincent Sports Performance trainer who’s worked with both everyday athletes and Olympians, relies on this home remedy directly before exercising. “The closer you use it to the run, the more effective it can be,” he says, noting it can be used again, post-run, to flush out any remaining residue.


These soothing, moisturizing sprays can be used as often as necessary, advises Stark, especially in cold, dry weather when the mucous membranes are extra dry and irritated. Runners can take a dose before— and even during—exercise (the small containers are easily totable). Stark recommends consistent usage as the most effective method for maintaining a healthy honker, but notes that “every bit helps.”


In some cases, cold weather isn’t the only culprit. Upper respiratory infections, allergies, pollutants, smoke and other chemical sensitivities that cause nasal irritation will likely worsen a runny nose in cold weather. “Treating these conditions before going outside will likely help minimize this effect,” says Stark, recommending runners check in with their doctors if they suspect an underlying issue.


Covering your nose and the lower half of your face with fabric “will help to maintain humidity in the air entering the nose, which will minimize irritation of the membranes and also keep the nose from having to work so hard to humidify the air,” explains Stark.

Kyle Larson, a runner with the Fleet Feet Sports racing team in Chicago, favors a Buff pulled up over his nose or a Smartwool Balaclava. Another option: the Smartwool Mid 250 Neck Gaiter, which “warms the neck and can easily be used to wipe the snot away,” says Lyndsey Baum, product buyer at Fleet Feet Sports. (It’s also machine washable so you can erase the evidence post-run.)


Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the floodgates open anyways. In such cases, Larson turns to his hands for help. “The nice thing about most running gloves is they will have a patch of soft fleece material on the top of the thumb so you can wipe the snot off your nose,” he says (adding, “I know it’s gross.”) Two such options with this built-in “snot spot:” the Manzella Hatchback Gloves and the Manzella Power Stretch Ultra Touch Tip Gloves.


A less stylish—but equally effective—solution: the snot rocket, also known as the “farmer’s blow.” Grant describes this technique as “my absolute favorite that I use almost every time I run.” Check out the below video for step-by-step (er, blow-by-blow) instructions.


Post-runny nose run, Stark warns against blowing your nose too aggressively as this may cause further irritation. As a solution for more severe cases, he recommends an ipratropium bromide nasal spray, which can be used to prevent or treat the symptoms of runny nose. It typically works within 15 minutes or less, and can last a few hours, depending on the dosage. One caveat: it can cause a few side effects (including excessive dryness and irritation), so he advises a doc consult before using.


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