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8 comments

Can Your Lungs Freeze?

Posted January 31, 2011 12:01 AM by Galina

I've lived in upstate New York all my life. I'm no stranger to freezing temperatures, biting winds, and snow, sleet, hail, and freezing rain. I've been an avid runner for the last five years, and I've run outdoors through every winter. At least once a season, I hear the following from some concerned soul. "Isn't running in that cold air bad for your lungs?", or even "Don't your lungs freeze?"

Well, I'm pleased to report this runner is still alive and the owner of working lungs. Humans have run marathons, trekked to the North and South Poles, and climbed Mount Everest. These folks have survived, too, so it should be obvious that "frozen lungs" is just a myth. After surviving tens of thousands of years without indoor heating and through five ice ages, the human body has adapted to heat air quickly as it enters the body through the nose and mouth. By the time the cold air passes through your windpipe and into your lungs, it's reached body temperature. Scientific studies have even proven that human lungs can warm incoming air in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius. Now that's cold.

Still, some runners may wish that evolution had done just a bit more. One lung condition that can trouble cold-weather runners is a transient, dry cough. The issue with the air isn't the cold temperature, however, but the dryness. As your body warms the air, it must also humidify it. Unfortunately, this can lead to a raw throat and dry cough after running. So how do you keep this from happening? Really, it's not that difficult. Just cover your mouth with something like a scarf to warm and humidify the air before it even hits your throat. Still don't believe it's that simple? The amount of pain you'd be in if your lungs really could freeze would prevent you from running another step.

In cold weather, runners need to be more concerned about their exteriors than their interiors. It's more likely that you'll get frostbite on your face, fingers, toes and other improperly-covered extremities than your lungs.

So rest assured – the only way to get a case of frozen lungs is to die in the outdoors. At that point, your lungs will freeze along with the rest of you.

Resources:

https://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-267-269-7442-0,00.html

https://wiki.runnersworld.com/index.php/Frozen_Lung

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Guru
United States - Member - New Member Engineering Fields - Electrical Engineering - New Member

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#1

Re: Can Your Lungs Freeze?

01/31/2011 12:58 PM

Very good. Two things:

1. "Scientific studies have even proven that human lungs can warm incoming air in temperatures as low as -50 degrees Celsius."

I would hate to be the poor sap that tested that out.

2. "So rest assured – the only way to get a case of frozen lungs is to die in the outdoors. At that point, your lungs will freeze along with the rest of you."

I feel so assured now.

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Associate

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Can Your Lungs Freeze?

01/31/2011 1:18 PM

1. I would be as up for participating in that test as I would in participating in a marathon at the North or South Pole. They'd have to pay me SERIOUS moolah.

2. I like to end my blogs on a positive note! LOL

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Guru

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#3

Re: Can Your Lungs Freeze?

01/31/2011 10:47 PM

I grew up in Northern Ontario and had seen the temperature drop to -63 F or ~-53C. It is cold and you cannot take those big deep breaths. If you are out in the weather for long you will freeze your nose, ears, and feet. And believe me they hurt like hell when you finally warm up.

I thought I would share a poem popular in Canadian schools and written by Robert Service about 1907; "The Cremation of Sam McGee."

Worth the read if you are not familiar with it. Enjoy.

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Guru

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#4

Re: Can Your Lungs Freeze?

02/01/2011 9:13 AM

You can injure your lungs by breathing too much cold air and taking too deep a breath in rapid succession. It happened to me when I was climbing Sulphur Mountain in Banff Park Alberta. I called it searing my lungs and it took about a year to get over. Lots of wheezing and coughing. There are devices that allow you to draw air from under your clothing that warms the air somewhat to minimize this issue. My advice would be to take it easy on the very cold days it is only common sense and why take the chance of lung damage. Check the net to see what others in your situation are saying about this issue.

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#5

Re: Can Your Lungs Freeze?

02/01/2011 10:50 AM

As a long time jogger in Winnipeg (350km north of Fargo ND), I can provide anecdotal evidence that your lungs don't freeze in cold weather. I have often jogged in weather as cold as -30C (-22F) and have never suffered for it. Unless it is windy, it is pretty easy to dress for a cold weather jog. Sometimes the icicles that form on my eyelashes can obstruct good vision, though. (No, I am not kidding...)

I usually only skip cold weather jogs when it is really windy, rather than just cold. Convective heat loss can be really fast and dangerous.

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Guru
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#6

Re: Can Your Lungs Freeze?

02/01/2011 11:56 AM

It hit 50 below (C) here in edmonton last winter, been lucky so far this year about 40 below is the worst weve seen. Why just yesterday it was -38 when I started the car in the morning. I don't run in weather like that but if dressed for it, nothing freezes. Supposed to go up to zero tomorrow ...... whooo hooo, down right balmy.

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#7

Re: Can Your Lungs Freeze?

02/02/2011 11:18 AM

I tend to not run in cold weather but then again I tend to not run in warm weather.

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