Why are you so prone to illness after a race? (Photo: Maxim Petrichuk)

Why Does My Nose Run When I Bike?

Whenever I go cycling, I get a runny nose. It doesn’t even have to be that cold outside to get a good drip going. Why does this happen?


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You’re clearly not the only snotty cyclist on the road as most bike gloves have fleece-backed thumbs for nose wiping. But while many cyclists wouldn’t consider a ride complete without a snot rocket, the cause of their nasal leakiness can vary.

One reason for rhinitis (irritation of the nose)—a symptom of which is rhinorrhea (runny nose)—is allergies. If you experience a runny nose on outdoor rides, but not at an indoor spin class, for example, allergies might be the culprit. Allergic rhinitis affects up to 30 percent of adults, according to a paper published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, and is often associated with asthma. If you don’t have allergies or asthma, but still get rhinorrhea when cycling outside, the weather could be to blame.

“Cold itself is one of the most common triggers for non-allergic rhinitis,” says Dr. Brian Schroer, co-author of the paper cited above. Dry air, which often accompanies cold weather, can also get the nasal flow going. Why? “Nobody knows exactly why it occurs,” Schroer says. One theory is that your nose is working overtime to warm and humidify the air entering your lungs. Along those lines, the National Institutes of Health hypothesized in 2008 that people whose noses are sensitive to cold air “may have reduced ability to compensate for the water loss that occurs during exposure to cold air.” The result is overcompensation to restore “mucosal homeostasis.” More simply, the result is more snot.

If it’s not cold, and you don’t have allergies, there’s yet another explanation for your runny nose. “High level athletes are breathing a large volume of air in and out per minute, and no matter what the humidity is outside, the lining of the nose as well as the lungs gets dried out,” Schroer says. “Exercise-induced rhinitis might be triggered purely because of the dryness.” If your snot is not clear, however, it could be the sign of a sinus infection.

So what to do about it? Most cyclists enjoy snot rocketing, and as long as you don’t have a sinus infection, your runny nose is probably nothing to worry about. But if you want to stop it, Schroer suggests trying ipratropium nasal spray.

THE BOTTOM LINE: The root of your rhinitis may be allergies, low humidity, cold weather, hard exercise, or any combination of these triggers. As long as your snot is clear, it’s probably more of a nuisance than a reason for concern. But if you want to stop the leak, sniff some ipratropium nasal spray before your next ride.

Lead Photo: Maxim Petrichuk