What is Cocaine Nose?

“Cocaine nose” refers to a collection of symptoms that people who snort cocaine may experience. Nose damage from cocaine can happen after someone uses the drug just one time, and the damage will usually get worse the more often someone snorts it. Cocaine’s effects on the nose can be potentially serious and permanent.

People snort cocaine because the effects are felt more quickly through this delivery method. The inside of the nose is lined with a type of tissue called the mucous membrane. This tissue absorbs substances more easily than the skin on other parts of the body. Underneath the mucous membrane are many tiny blood vessels. When someone snorts cocaine, its effects are felt quickly because it passes through the mucous membrane and is delivered straight into the bloodstream.

Effects of Cocaine Use on the Nose

What does cocaine do to your nose? Inhaling powders isn’t the normal function of the nose, and snorting can cause damage to the cells of the nasal skin, mucous membranes and cartilage. The negative effects of snorting cocaine are primarily caused by how the drug affects blood vessels.

Cocaine makes blood vessels shrink, so not as much blood can pass through. This means that some tissues in the nose won’t get as much oxygen as they need, and cells will become damaged or die. Nose damage from cocaine use may be worse if the cocaine is cut with other substances, such as caffeine, laxatives, baby powder or detergent.

Short-Term Effects

Cocaine nose isn’t a long, gradual process. The tissue in the nose can begin to rot when a person uses a lot of cocaine at once. After snorting cocaine, a runny nose may develop because the mucous membranes become damaged and begin producing more mucus. People may also develop a stuffy nose from cocaine because snorting leads to inflammation in the nasal passages. Cocaine-induced nosebleeds are also common. If someone has a bloody nose after cocaine use, this is a sign that they are damaging the blood vessels in their nose.

All of these symptoms may last from a few hours to a day, but they are each a sign that damage is happening to the nose. These issues can turn into more serious problems if someone continues to snort cocaine.

Long-Term Effects

Nasal damage can happen after snorting cocaine just once, but long-term cocaine use can prevent healing and make smaller problems become more serious. If the oxygen supply to the skin, mucous membranes and cartilage is frequently cut off, the flesh in the nose will start to rot and die.

Early symptoms of damage include sores in the nose. If these don’t get a chance to heal, they will worsen. The skin in and around the nose can eventually start to rot, and lumps of flesh may actually fall off. If someone continues to snort cocaine after there is damage to the skin and mucous membranes, the underlying cartilage will eventually become damaged as well.

Long-term cocaine users may develop holes in their septum —  the wall of cartilage between the nostrils. In extreme cases, the septum will disintegrate and people will have their nose collapse from cocaine use. When this happens, the entire nose is flattened because there is nothing underneath to support it. A person may also develop holes in the roof of their mouth, giving them problems swallowing or causing food to come out of their nose when they eat.

When someone has a perforation or other damage to their nose, they may develop allergy-like symptoms. These include:

  • Dryness
  • Runny nose
  • Stuffy nose or congestion
  • Crusting
  • Inflammation
  • Feeling like something is blocking the nasal passage
  • Noticing bad smells
  • A decreased ability to smell
  • A whistling sound while breathing
  • Snoring
  • Bleeding
  • Pain

Another symptom is frequent lung and sinus infections. The nose’s job is to clean out the air as someone breathes in, so if a person has nasal damage, more bacteria and fungus may get into their airways.

Sometimes, cocaine is laced with Levamisole, a parasite medication. This can cause extra damage to the nose. When people use cocaine that has Levamisole, the skin on the nose, face and limbs may blacken, rot and fall off.

Reversing Cocaine-Induced Nose Damage

The best way to prevent nose damage is to stop using cocaine altogether. However, people who use cocaine can try some strategies that will help reduce harm. Chopping cocaine into a very fine powder, alternating nostrils and diluting the drug with water may help decrease the damage caused by snorting.

Some nose damage will heal on its own. Sores or ulcers can often heal over time once someone has stopped using cocaine. Saline rinses can also help if someone is experiencing dryness. Nasal sprays that have medication in them should usually be avoided, however, because they can make dryness worse.

Some damage is permanent and won’t get better without help from a doctor. If someone has a full perforation through their septum or the roof of their mouth, it won’t heal on its own. Someone who is experiencing chronic symptoms of nasal damage should talk to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor as soon as possible before the damage gets worse.

When someone has extensive damage to their face after using cocaine, nose surgery is usually necessary. Internal damage may be permanent and can cause lasting problems. In some cases, doctors may need to reconstruct the nose with plastic surgery. They will usually take bone and skin from other places on the face, such as the cheek or forehead, and use it to rebuild the nose. Multiple surgeries are often needed, and the patient will have to wait several months between each surgery to allow scar tissue to heal. This process can be painful, expensive and long. Additionally, many doctors won’t perform this surgery unless patients have been cocaine-free for many months. The sooner someone goes to see a doctor, however, the better their chances of minimizing damage and healing successfully.

If you’re finding it hard to stop using cocaine or are experiencing issues related to your drug use, The Recovery Village Ridgefield can help. Contact us today to learn about different treatment programs that can help you or a loved one recover and lead a healthier life.

Metzinger, Stephen; Guerra, Aldo. “Diagnosing and treating nasal septal perforations.” Aesthetic Surgery Journal, September 2005. Accessed September 26, 2019.

Munoz, C., et al. “Cocaine-Levamisole Induced Vasculitis: A Series of 11 Cases.” Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 2016. Accessed September 26, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “How is cocaine used?” May 2016. Accessed September 26, 2019.

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