Cocaine Nose: What Does Coke Do to Your Nose?

Last Updated: April 18, 2024

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Cocaine nose is a non-medical term used to describe nose tissue damage that can result from frequent or heavy cocaine use.

Cocaine destroys your nose, especially if you use it frequently or heavily. The nasal membrane is relatively fragile, and when you snort cocaine, it constricts the blood vessels in your nose, making it more susceptible to damage. Over time, cocaine can damage your nose so severely that plastic surgery is needed to repair it.

What Is “Coke Nose”? 

“Coke nose” is a non-medical term that can have two meanings. It commonly defines a condition where your nose is more stuffy and congested due to cocaine use. However, “coke nose” can also describe more severe nose damage caused by cocaine. People generally use the first definition to explain how their nose feels, while the second describes how someone else’s nose looks.

What Does Cocaine Do to Your Nose? 

While cocaine can have many possible effects on your nose, they stem from primarily one thing, decreased circulation to the membranes lining your nose. Cocaine is a localized vasoconstrictor, constricting blood vessels where it touches and reducing circulation to that area.

Healthcare professionals use cocaine to reduce blood circulation to the lining of the nose during surgery or severe nose bleeds. This effect is desirable in these rare cases; however, it causes damage when prolonged by repeated cocaine use.

Cocaine Nose Scabs

As you use cocaine repeatedly, the combined effect of decreased circulation and putting foreign substances in your nose damages the lining of the nose. This causes open areas that scab over. Cocaine nose scabs are caused by the body trying to heal the damage that occurred because you used cocaine.

Cocaine Stuffy Nose 

Cocaine causes a stuffy nose in two ways. Firstly, when you snort a foreign substance into the nose, your body responds by creating nasal drainage to wash out the powder. Secondly, the decreased circulation to the lining of your nose is irritating, causing your body to increase nasal drainage further. Together, these create chronic stuffiness. Cocaine nose scabs can lead to even more congestion and stuffiness.

Cocaine Sinus Infections

Cocaine use increases the risk of sinus infections because of how the drug is used and the effects it causes. Because cocaine restricts circulation in your nose, it decreases the immune system’s ability to respond correctly to potential infections. This decreased immune response makes infections more likely to develop.

While cocaine suppresses your body’s response to possible sinus infections, it also increases the likelihood that one will develop. Inserting a foreign substance into your nose increases the risk of infection by potentially introducing bacteria. Not only do you put a foreign substance into your nose, but forcefully inhaling increases the distance that bacteria can enter your nose and sinuses, further increasing the risk of infection.

Cocaine Nose Holes (Nasal Septal Perforation) 

While cocaine can cause minor problems, like stuffiness and scabs, it can also lead to more serious issues. As circulation to the tissues of the nose remains suppressed over a long period, it can affect more than just the lining of the nose. Other tissue can rot and die, leading to deformities. 

Nasal septal perforation occurs when more serious tissue damage happens. With this condition, decreased circulation to the nasal septum (the cartilage separating your two nostrils) causes its tissues to die. This results in a hole in the nasal septum, allowing air to flow between your nostrils.

Hard Palate Damage

As cocaine affects circulation to the tissues in your nose, it can cause the tissues in the bottom of the nasal cavity to rot and die. This can eventually make a hole between the bottom of the nasal cavity and the top of the roof of your mouth. Hard palate damage allows food or liquids in your mouth to leak into your nasal cavity and enables nasal secretions to leak into your mouth. This increases the risk of infection and creates an unpleasant situation where anything in your mouth will likely leak out your nose.

“Saddle Nose”

Saddle nose is a medical term used to describe the collapse of the bridge of your nose. As cocaine causes tissues in your nose to rot and die, the bridge of your nose can collapse. This means that the upper half of your nose will cave inwards, falling into your face. This can make it more difficult to breathe through your nose and create an obvious facial deformity that is almost impossible to hide or improve.

Deviated Septum 

A deviated septum occurs when cocaine damages tissues that structure the nose. Damage to the nasal septum (the cartilage wall separating the two nostrils) can cause it to become floppy instead of rigid. This causes it to collapse to one side. The result is that it will block one nostril whenever you breathe through your nose, and your nose will appear to tilt to one side. 

How to Soothe Irritation From Cocaine Use

Cocaine use will irritate your nose; there is no way around it. You can do some things to soothe the irritation that cocaine use causes; however, nothing can completely alleviate it. 

Ways to soothe your nose from cocaine use include:

  • Saline rinses: Using saline to rinse your nose regularly can help keep it moisturized. Rinsing after using cocaine can also help to remove irritants in your nose.
  • Moisturizer: Using a moisturizer like Vaseline inside your nose can help keep your nose moist and potentially reduce the irritation caused by cocaine.
  • Medical treatment: A doctor may be able to provide personalized treatments that can further reduce irritation from cocaine use.

You should consult a doctor before using anything, even saline rinses, in your nose while using cocaine. Ultimately, only stopping cocaine use can prevent the nasal irritation it causes.

How to Heal From Coke Nose

Healing from coke nose requires you to stop using cocaine. Coke nose will only worsen while you use cocaine, as there is no way to snort the drug while maintaining normal circulation to the surrounding tissues.

When you stop cocaine, your body will begin to heal itself. The healing amount will depend on whether the body can regrow damaged tissue. In more minor damage cases, such as nose scabs, the body can generally completely heal the damage caused by cocaine. However, more serious deformities, such as hard palate damage or saddle nose, cause permanent tissue damage. These deformities will never heal independently and can only be repaired with plastic surgery.

Get Help for Cocaine Addiction in New Jersey

Often, a person using cocaine knows it can damage their nose and disfigure their face, but stopping can be difficult if addiction has developed. At The Recovery Village Cherry Hill at Cooper, we have experience helping people achieve freedom from cocaine addiction. We provide a full spectrum of treatment options that fit anyone’s unique needs, from medical detox to lasting aftercare support. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to start your personalized journey to lasting recovery.

Sources

MedlinePlus. “Cocaine.” April 21, 2016. Accessed May 4, 2023.

National Drug Intelligence Center. “Powdered Cocaine Fast Facts.” April 2003. Accessed May 4, 2023.

Villa, Peter D. “Midfacial Complications of Prolonged Cocaine Snort.” Canadian Dental Association. 1999. Accessed May 4, 2023.

Di Rienzo Businco, L.; Lauriello, M.; & et al. “Psychological aspects and treatment of patients with nasal septal perforation due to cocaine inhalation.” ACTA Otorhinolaryngologica Italica. August 2017. Accessed May 4, 2023.

West End Facial Plastic Surgery. “What you need to know about a ‘Saddle Nose.’” 2023. Accessed May 4, 2023.

Lieberman, Phillip L. “Patient education: Nonallergic rhinitis (runny or stuffy nose) (Beyond the Basics).” UpToDate. November 07, 2022. Accessed May 4, 2023.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

Get your life back

Recovery is possible. Begin your journey today

Call Us Now Admissions Check Insurance

What To Expect

When you call our team, you will speak to a Recovery Advocate who will answer any questions and perform a pre-assessment to determine your eligibility for treatment. If eligible, we will create a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. If The Recovery Village is not the right fit for you or your loved one, we will help refer you to a facility that is. All calls are 100% free and confidential.

All calls are 100% free and confidential.