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Winter time : Why the nose keeps running

As soon as the temperatures outside get icy and a cold wind sweeps, it runs incessantly: the nose. It often becomes particularly uncomfortable when we switch from cold outside air to warm inside temperatures - and reach the office with a runny nose.

But how is the runny nose explained, although there is no runny nose and one is otherwise in the best of health?

When it is cold, the nose has three tasks to perform: filtering, humidifying and warming the air. “Behind the nose there should always be around 31–34 degrees Celsius. When it gets cold, the turbinates expand: They are the air conditioning system for the nose, ”says Katharina Stölzel, senior physician at the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic at the Charité.

The so-called turbinates are the three bony protrusions that protrude laterally into the interior of the nose, the two nasal cavities.

Cold stimulates secretion production

“You have a permanent secretion in your nose - a secretion film. When this expands, the secretion either drains backwards, which we often don't even notice and swallow, or it builds up, resulting in a blocked nose, ”says Stölzel. When it is cold, the secretion is in turn increasingly produced in order to increase the humidity, because cold air always has a relatively low humidity.

“But when you come into the warmth, the effect is that the nasal concha become smaller again and the strongly produced secretion runs off to the front. That is what we perceive as runny nose, ”explains Stölzel. "In addition, the indoor air is often extremely dry in winter, which is why certain stimuli - the receptors in the nose - stimulate the secretion again."

Annoying but harmless: "runny nose"

There are various home remedies to counteract the low humidity in a dry room, be it brief ventilation for around five minutes in the winter months, damp towels over the heater or air humidifiers with water deposits. But there is (still) no better recipe against the runny nose than the tried and tested handkerchief. Patients who have a runny nose with increasing age often come to Stölzel. On the other hand, there is no scientifically based drug.

But there is also no reason to worry: “From a medical point of view, a runny nose is quite harmless, even if it is a nuisance. With this in mind: have your handkerchiefs ready and snort your way through the winter. "

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