Q: What causes my lungs to have a burning sensation during exercise?

A: At some point in our lives, we all have experienced a burning sensation in our lungs or airway while we were exercising.  What causes this feeling?

  • Fitness level/activity intensity – If you are new to exercise, coming off a layoff, or increasing the activity’s intensity level you will tax your respiratory system.  When you tax your respiratory system, you breathe through your mouth and not your nose.  Mouth breathing will dry the mucus membranes and can result in a burning sensation.
  • Air temperature/dry air – Cold air can be uncomfortable, but the air is warmed to body temperature before it reaches the lungs.  The burning sensation when exercising in cold temperatures is due to the fact that cold temperatures have dry air.  Dry air aggravates the lungs and airway and can lead to a burning sensation.
  • Illness – Acute conditions that originate in or affect the lungs or airways (bronchitis, pneumonia) have a burning sensation associated with the illness.  Exercise may intensify the feeling.
  • Environmental – Exercising in an environment heavy in irritants or pollutants will have a negative impact on the respiratory system and may lead to a burning sensation.
  • Chronic Respiratory Disease – Chronic diseases, such as exercise-induced asthma, result in the airway constricting during exercise and can lead to a burning sensation.


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