Chest Pains and Coughing When Running in Cold Air

By Rae Casto

Running outdoors on a blustery day is exhilarating for some, but painful for others. If you have certain health conditions, cold weather jaunts could cause chest pains, coughing and breathing issues. Any time you experience these symptoms while running or exercising, it is wise to suspend your activity until you have consulted with a physician to determine the cause.

Exercise-Induced Asthma

Cold air is a common trigger for asthma sufferers -- running in cold weather can, literally, take your breath away. Exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, or EIB, is the medical name for narrowing of the bronchial tubes during physical exertion. Asthma is not, necessarily, a prerequisite for EIB, but asthma and allergy sufferers are frequently sensitized to environmental irritants. Mouth-breathing while running allows ample opportunity for cold air to enter and irritate the delicate linings of the respiratory tract.


Chest pains while running or exercising should always be cause for concern, especially when you're doing these activities outdoors in frigid air. In cold weather, your arteries constrict and your blood thickens. This can cause an increase in blood pressure and angina pectoris -- the chest pain that can occur when the narrowed arteries aren't getting enough blood and oxygen to your heart.


Constricted arteries and high blood pressure can cause strokes to occur in people exercising or running in cold weather. Dr. Jack Galbraith, a family medicine specialist with St. Anthony's Family Health Partners, writes that plaque that has formed along those arteries can split, letting blood clots form. These can later break off and clog blood flow to the brain.


If you have severe allergies or asthma, you can prevent cold air from triggering an attack by jogging at a gym. If you're determined to run outdoors, wrap a muffler or scarf around your mouth and nose area to see if this reduces the impact of cold air on your breathing passages.

You should never start an outdoor running or exercise program during cold weather without first building your body's tolerance for exertion. Pre-conditioning your body is a necessity. Of course, it is always best to follow your doctor's instructions and complete a physical examination prior to launching any exercise program.

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