A polar vortex has descended upon the Midwest U.S., and this time it’s a doozy. Roughly 85 percent of the people living in the lower 48 states will experience freezing temperatures with roughly 75 million people experiencing temperatures below zero. The worst of it will be in a region of the Upper Midwest from Chicago through Minneapolis. This region will experience temperatures between –23 and –30 with wind chills between –50 to –60 tomorrow morning. In some places, temperatures are expected to stay below zero for more than two full days. Much of the entire Midwest haven’t seen wind chills this low in the last 20 years or more. Some 31 cities are expected to match or set new record low temperatures.
Breathing Tips for Extremely Cold Temperatures
In wind chills of 40-50 below, you can get frostbite in as little as 5 minutes, and your eyeballs can freeze in their sockets when left unexposed in this type of wind chill. You can freeze a banana, peeled or unpeeled, and then use it as a hammer to drive in nails. The point is many things behave differently in this type of deep freeze, and this includes your breath.
Among the most common advice for breathing in extremely cold temperatures is to avoid deep breaths, minimize talking, don’t overexert yourself, cover your mouth with something to the extent practical. Taken together, what this advice is really saying is to breathe through your nose as much as possible. Compared to mouth breathing, the nasal passageways are much better at warming and humidifying the air.
What’s the Risk?
It’s not just the temperature that’s at issue. That’s because the colder the air, the drier the air. Asthma, COPD, and bronchitis are especially prone to being aggravated by dry air, but everybody’s respiration suffers from this type of dry air. This is especially true over prolonged periods of time when the body’s natural ability to compensate and adapt begins to reach its limits. If you’re older or otherwise susceptible to pneumonia, this dry air is additional risk factor. And if you have a head cold of sort or another, this type of dry air is going to wreak havoc on your sinuses.
So, tomorrow, the rest of winter, and during future cold snaps, be mindful to engage your nasal breathing as much as possible.