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What Does Cocaine Do To Your Nose?

Cocaine is a stimulant drug that is made and sold on the street. Individuals who abuse this substance face a high risk of developing an addiction to cocaine. While this drug can be injected, smoked, and snorted, the majority of users tend to snort cocaine. This is because snorting cocaine produces a longer-lasting high in comparison to other methods of use.

While cocaine causes damaging effects regardless of the method of deliverance, snorting cocaine causes severe damage to the nose. Let’s take a look at what cocaine does to an individual’s nose.

What is Cocaine?

Cocaine is a substance derived from the coca leaves of the Erythroxylon coca, a plant native to South America. This drug is a powerful central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that is known for its highly addictive properties.

Before the damaging effects of cocaine were discovered, this drug was an active ingredient in many medications. Even more surprising, cocaine could be found in Coca-Cola from 1886 to 1929.[1] Thankfully, advances in science and research have led experts to realize the repercussions of cocaine use. Cocaine is now considered an illicit drug and is only found on the street.

While there are various ways to use cocaine, the most common method of use is snorting or “inhaling through the nose”. Individuals prefer this method of use because it creates an immediate high that lasts longer than if the cocaine was smoked or injected. Unfortunately, many individuals do not realize how damaging this substance is to the nose when snorted frequently.

Cocaine

Understanding the Structure of the Nose

Because cocaine users typically become dependent on cocaine, they tend to snort cocaine frequently. This causes serious damage to certain structures of the nose. In order to understand the effects of cocaine on the nose, individuals must be familiar with the different parts of the nose.

Parts of a Nose

The main parts of the nose include:[2]

  • Nasal Septum- a wall made of cartilage and bone that runs down the length of the nose, separating the nasal cavity in half.
  • Cartilage- forms the front part of the septum to create the wall of the nose.
  • Mucous Membrane Lining- covers the entire surface of the nasal cavity to capture irritants of the lungs.
  • Nasal Cavity- the bony portion of the septum that connects the nose to facial bones, sinuses, and the roof of the mouth.

Snorting cocaine damages the mucous membrane linings while inhibiting blood flow to the nose. If an individual’s lining is affected, they become more susceptible to inhaling irritating particles, leaving the lungs vulnerable.

The damage to the membrane is a direct result of snorting cocaine, however, the decreased blood flow is caused by the effects of cocaine on the brain. Decreased blood flow stems from the effects cocaine has on the neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically epinephrine and norepinephrine. These chemicals help regulate blood flow throughout the body. When these systems are affected, an individual’s blood flow will be irregular.

The Effects of Cocaine on the Nose

The short-term effects of cocaine on the nose typically include nose bleeds and an overall rawness inside the walls of the nose. However, once an individual becomes addicted to cocaine, they risk experiencing the long-term effects.

When cocaine is snorted, it is first absorbed through the mucous membrane linings, where it enters the bloodstream. Typically, cocaine is mixed with cutting agents like laxatives or caffeine, which will be absorbed into the bloodstream as well.

These chemicals inflame the inner lining of the nose, causing irritation and stuffiness. Next, the effects of cocaine cause the blood vessels in the nose to shrivel, consequently blocking blood flow. When the effects of cocaine wear off, these blood vessels may burst, leading to nose bleeds.

Unfortunately, individuals will have a difficult time quitting cocaine without professional treatment once they are addicted to the substance. As a result, many individuals develop the long-term effects of cocaine on the nose.

Deviated Septum

Repeated snorting of cocaine irritates the cartilage and mucous lining, leading the shape of the septum to deteriorate over time. One nostril may even appear larger than the other. This is referred to as a deviated septum, one of the long-term effects of snorting cocaine.

symptoms of a deviated septum

The symptoms of a deviated septum include:

  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Breathing problems
  • Headaches
  • Facial pain
  • Loud snoring
  • Nosebleeds
  • Dry nasal passages

Perforated Septum

With long-term cocaine abuse, the cells of the nose begin to die. This creates a hole or a perforation in the septum. If cocaine abuse continues, the nose’s cells will continue to die, leading the hole in the septum to continue getting larger until cocaine use is ceased. This is known as a perforated septum.

symptoms of a perforated septum

The symptoms of a perforated septum include:

  • Nosebleeds
  • Scabbing inside the nose
  • Headaches
  • Nose pain
  • Whistling or wheezing through the nose
  • Feeling a blockage in the nose

Hard Palate Damage

Hard palate damage occurs when the damage to the nasal structures progresses to the point that the sides of the nose begin to become damaged. The hard palate is a medical term for the roof of the mouth, which sits right next to the inside of the nose.

When mucous linings are irritated, the blood flow continues to die down. This causes the cells that make up the palate to die, eating away at the bone. As a result, holes will begin to form at the roof of the mouth.[3]

Signs of hard palate damage include:

  • Issues with swallowing
  • Nasal-sounding voice
  • Foods or drinks coming out of the nose while eating or drinking

“Saddle Nose”

Severe cocaine abuse will begin to affect more than the inside of the nose. Saddle nose refers to a condition caused by damage to the septum that is so extensive that the septum is not able to hole up the nostrils. This causes the nose to collapse, making it look flatter and wider. Unfortunately, only plastic surgery can correct this condition as the damage is permanent.

Getting Help for Cocaine Addiction

Cocaine addiction can happen quickly and tends to cause severe damage to an individual’s nose. Individuals who are abusing cocaine on a frequent basis should consult with a professional addiction treatment center to prevent serious damage from occurring.

South Carolina Addiction Treatment Center is here to help. Contact us today for more information on what cocaine does to your nose and how to prevent long-term effects.

References:

  1. Coca-Cola’s Scandalous Past | NIDA Archives (drugabuse.gov)
  2. Physiology, Nasal – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
  3. Hard palate perforation in cocaine abusers: a systematic review – PubMed (nih.gov)

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor

About

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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