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Yesterday I rode to work in -2°F / -19°C temps. When I got to my destination (only about 3.5 miles), my lungs felt terrible. My voice was hoarse and I was coughing a lot. All this despite the fact that I was wearing several wool and fleece layers, a thick balaclava and was completely toasty the whole ride.

The ride may have triggered some exercise induced asthma due to the extreme cold. I tried to cover my face with the balaclava, but there was not enough ventilation and was getting short of breath trying to breath through the fleece, especially when climbing hills.

This sort of thing is something that should not be repeated for the health of my lungs. What gear or techniques can I use to prevent this kind of lung irritation during extreme cold?

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For one, you can try air purification masks - the air heats up while trying to pass through the filter. –  Vorac Jan 23 at 15:46
    
As a note, I run into a guy at work that coaches track and I mentioned that my ride gets harder the colder it gets due to my breathing. He said many of his athletes make the same comment. Myself however, haven't in under -6c due to lack of proper clothes and fear of black ice (this winter the extreme cold has been after snow storms) –  BPugh Jan 23 at 16:46
    
I haven't had the problem either, not above -30°C at least. Are you cycling hard or at a leasurely pace? –  gerrit Jan 23 at 18:10
    
I think there are some related posts on The Great Outdoors. –  gerrit Jan 23 at 18:12
    
I may be a bit more susceptible to the cold air due to some latent asthma issues. I'm usually fine at any temp over 20°F, but sometimes have issues after a long exposure during heavy activity. I have to ride kind of hard at times since I live in a hilly area. I try to ride more casually on flats and downhills, but I can't really help it, I'm going to have to climb to get where I'm going. –  Benzo Jan 23 at 18:34
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+100

A scientific Journal, Chest Journal, published an article about the efficiency of heat exchange masks on asthmatic subjects during cold weather exercise. They found that the heat exchanger masks were at least as effective as pre-treatment with albuterol in preventing decline in lung function.

I found several commercial heat exchange masks which could potentially be used for cycling:

  • Airtrim AirTrim Heat/Moisture Exchange Masks - seems to be the most athlete focused product and would likely be effective.

  • N-Ferno 6970 Extreme Balaclava with Hot Rox

  • Polarwrap, The Exchanger Mask

  • Talus Outdoor Technologies ColdAvenger Pro Soft Shell Mask or ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava

  • AirGuard Medical CT Mask for COPD or Asthma - May not be designed for high levels of activity

    However, for less extreme temperatures, simply breathing through some medium, like fleece, which captures the moisture you exhale and passes inhaled air back over it may work as a less efficient, but still potentially effective heat exchange in warmer temps. For me, breathing through the balaclava helps a bit in temps over 15F, but is less effective at lower temps.

    Anti-Pollution masks may provide a similar effect as well, but may not capture as much heat if they use exhalation valves which remove some of the exhaled air without capturing the heat.

  • share|improve this answer
        
    +1 for the first link. That product is dead on. –  Carey Gregory Jan 27 at 6:40
        
    Maybe something like this, looks hilarious though. –  Carson Reinke Jan 27 at 17:50
    2  
    I used a ColdAvenger Expedition Balaclava today with a temp of -5°f. It helped immensely. I had no trouble breathing at all. However, it also caused heavy fogging on my goggles, the fog froze and I had to remove my goggles to get to my destination. I'll be making some modifications to the mask to prevent fog infiltration, but I'm sold on this as a solution to breathing issues. –  Benzo Jan 28 at 15:09
        
    Apparently, the coldavenger mask was used by a lot of folks on the arrowhead 135 race, which had a -24F start temp. I'm sold on this as a solution. I did sew on some extra foam at the top of the mask to stop infiltration of my breath in to my goggles. Here's some pics of really cold people, some of them wear this mask. minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2014/01/28/sport/… –  Benzo Jan 29 at 18:31
        
    Also found another solution to fixing the fog on the coldavenger by sewing in a wire from an n95 ventillator on the ridge of the mask. scandinavian-hiking.com/2012/05/… the fogging –  Benzo Jan 29 at 18:58
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