It is normal for the hands, feet, nose, and ears to feel cold before other parts of the body. This is because it usually takes longer for blood to circulate to these extremities, especially in cold temperatures.

A person can have a cold nose for several reasons besides. Often, it is not a cause for worry. But, in some cases, it may be a sign of an underlying health condition.

What causes a cold nose?

There are various reasons why someone might have a cold nose. They include:

The body’s response to cold

cold nose
The nose does not have a lot of insulating fat and will be one of the first body parts that feels cold.

The body conserves heat and energy by reducing blood flow to the extremities in cold temperatures or weather. Instead, the blood is directed toward the vital organs to keep them warm and to allow them to function properly.

The reduced blood flow to the hands, feet, ears, and nose causes them to feel cooler than, for example, the stomach or chest, as a result.

The nose is likely to feel cold first when temperatures dip because it is composed mainly of cartilage tissue and does not have a lot of insulating fat.

Underactive thyroid

An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones that control the way the body uses energy.

Metabolism slows to conserve heat and energy without this hormone. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism, aside from sensitivity to cold, include:

  • tiredness
  • muscle aches and weakness
  • weight gain
  • dry and scaly skin
  • brittle hair and nails
  • slow movements and thoughts
  • pain, numbness, and tingling in hands and fingers

An autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s disease damages the thyroid gland and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism.

Other causes of hypothyroidism include:

  • surgical removal of the thyroid gland
  • congenital hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid is present at birth
  • inflammation of the thyroid or thyroiditis

Raynaud’s disease

Raynaud’s disease causes excessive narrowing of blood vessels, which results in little or no blood flow in the extremities.

It is usually triggered by exposure to cold or even stress. The disorder usually affects the fingers and toes, but it can also occur in the nose and ears.

The skin may turn white and then blue, briefly, during an attack. The affected areas may turn red and be accompanied by throbbing, tingling or numbness once the blood flow returns.

It is not clear what causes Raynaud’s disease. But diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can cause a more severe form of the condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Exposure to extreme cold

Being in cold temperatures, for example, during outdoor sports, can result in a cold nose.

When prolonged exposure causes the body to lose heat faster than it can generate it, the result is hypothermia. This occurs when the body’s heat is lower than the normal body temperature of 98.6°F or 37°C.

Early symptoms include:

  • shivering
  • fatigue
  • loss of coordination
  • confusion

A cold nose could signal the early stages of frostnip or frostbite after prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures, such as freezing water or wind.

Symptoms of frostbite include:

  • numbness
  • reduced blood flow to hands and feet
  • tingling or stinging
  • aching
  • bluish or pale, waxy skin

Frostbite commonly affects extremities such as the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, or toes.

Hypothermia, frostnip, and frostbite are potentially dangerous conditions, and it is important to seek medical help immediately if they occur.

A stressful workload

A cold nose could also be a sign of working too hard.

One study found a direct link between facial temperature and stress from a challenging workload.

The scientists who studied the neurological functions of 14 volunteers, found that the more mental pressures they faced, the colder their noses became.

The nose temperature dropped by an average of 1°C (33.8°F) as the mental tasks became more challenging. The research suggested this could be the result of blood flow from the face being diverted to the cerebral cortex.

What are the treatment options?

hats and scarves can help prevent cold nose
Wearing hats and scarves can keep the face warm.

People who have a cold nose when the weather turns chilly can keep warm by doing the following:

  • layering clothes for extra warmth
  • wearing hats or balaclavas to reduce heat loss from the head
  • wearing scarves to prevent exposure of the nose to the cold
  • using gloves or mittens and suitable footwear with warm socks

All these methods help keep the body warm and the blood flowing to the extremities, including the nose.

Hypothyroidism

People who think their cold nose could be caused by hypothyroidism should see a doctor. A physical examination and blood tests can determine if they have the disorder. Treatment involves taking thyroid hormone medication.

Raynaud’s disease

There is no cure for Raynaud’s disease and Raynaud’s phenomenon. Adopting simple lifestyle changes can, however, help avoid triggering an attack.

These changes include:

  • Wearing warm clothing when in cold temperatures.
  • Using gloves or mittens when taking food out of the refrigerator or freezer if this causes a reaction.
  • Putting hand and foot warmers in mittens, boots, socks, or pockets.
  • Warming up a vehicle before driving in cold weather.
  • Taking medicines that improve blood flow to fingers and toes or surgery in some cases.

Some medicines, such as beta-blockers and certain migraine drugs, can cause attacks. People should consult a doctor if this is the case.

Hypothermia

People who show symptoms of hypothermia, frostnip or frostbite should seek medical treatment immediately.

If someone shows visible signs of hypothermia, they should be immediately moved into a warm room or shelter. Any clothing that is wet should be taken off, and the individual should be kept dry and wrapped in a warm blanket.

They should be given a warm beverage to help increase their body temperature, but this must not include any alcohol.

People who show signs of frostnip or frostbite should not be allowed to walk, as this may damage the tissue of their feet or toes if these are affected.

Their cold bodies should not be rubbed or massaged, and heating pads or heat lamps should not be used either. They can be helped to immerse the affected areas of their body in warm, but not hot, water.

Stress

work stress can contribute to cold nose
Work-related stress may contribute to a cold nose.

According to a 2012 survey, 65 percent of Americans cited work as a main source of stress.

Those who think their cold nose is caused by work-related stress can take steps to manage these pressures.

These steps include:

  • Developing healthful responses: Turn to exercise or a hobby instead of fast food or alcohol when dealing with stress at work.
  • Establishing work-life boundaries: Do not check work email in the evening.
  • Get support: From friends and family or stress management resources if offered by the employer.
  • Take time to recharge: Take a vacation to relax and unwind.

Takeaway

A cold nose should not be a cause for worry in many instances. It is normal for a nose to feel cold during chilly weather. It may simply mean someone needs to wrap up more when the temperatures drop.

A constantly cold nose could, however, be a sign of an underlying health condition, even in warm weather. It is recommended to see a doctor if the symptoms continue and cause pain and discomfort.

People should avoid smoking as this narrows the arteries and makes clots more likely to form, which can cause circulation problems, a heart attack, or stroke.