How dangerous is snorting cocaine on the nose and sinuses? Learn what risks snorting cocaine can have on your nose and how the process can result in permanent nasal damage.

Cocaine is one of the most popular illicit drugs in the world. With effects ranging from intense happiness to a significant decrease in appetite, cocaine is a powerful substance that can be extremely addictive.

Cocaine also is unique from many drugs, both illicit and prescription, in that it can be used in any of four ways: orally, intranasally, intravenously and through inhalation. Oral use involves rubbing the substance onto a person’s gums. Intravenous use requires dissolving the substance in water and injecting cocaine into a person’s bloodstream. Inhalation involves smoking cocaine, and intranasal use is done by snorting cocaine through the nose.

Dangers of Snorting Cocaine Intranasally

Each method of using the drug involves the substance entering the body in a different way, which can lead to different interactions and divergent effects. Snorting cocaine causes the drug to reach the bloodstream through a person’s nasal tissues. People who regularly use cocaine intranasally are likely to experience physical effects and health risks unique to this method.

What Happens When Cocaine is Snorted?

Snorting cocaine requires the drug to travel from the blood vessels in the nose to the heart, which then sends the substance into the lungs to be turned into oxygen. The blood carrying the corrupted oxygen then returns to the heart where it is sent to the body’s other organs.

When cocaine reaches a person’s brain, the drug binds to the dopamine transporter and blocks the transporter’s usual task of removing the pleasure-inducing chemical known as dopamine from the brain’s synapse and dopamine receptors. As the blocking continues, dopamine builds up in the synapse and heightens the short-term positive effects that come from excess dopamine in the brain.

Dangers and Nasal Side Effects of Snorting Cocaine

Snorting cocaine can lead to long-term negative effects for a person’s nose and sense of smell. All uses of cocaine can be risky, but intranasal entry into the body carries its own unique risks.

Similar to other manners of using the drug, the immediate effects of snorting cocaine include:

  • Sensitivity to light, sound and touch
  • Extreme happiness
  • Irritability
  • Feeling paranoid
  • Mood changes
  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Heart-related health risks
  • Sexual-performance issues
  • Lung damage

Cocaine Effects on the Nose

Cocaine nose damage is a common result of snorting the drug. Long-term nasal ingestion of cocaine can result in severe side effects and prolonged damage that’s often labeled as “coke nose” or “cocaine nose,” which can require medical intervention to repair. A “cocaine nose-job” is the medical process of repairing a deviated septum that was caused by regular intranasal use of the substance.

A common question asked is “What does cocaine do to your nose?” There are numerous physical effects that snorting cocaine can have on this part of a person’s body. Aside from a loss of smell, snorting cocaine can lead to a nasal collapse, sinus issues or nose bleeds. If someone you know has shown any of these signs, they might be regularly snorting cocaine. If so, they should seek medical attention both due to immediate health risks and their long-term future. Snorting cocaine is not only harmful to a person’s nose but can also lead to addiction.

Cocaine Nose Bleed

Cocaine nose bleeds are a common side effect of constant cocaine use. When the drug enters the body intranasally, the substance comes into contact and irritates the inner part of the nose, where there’s a thin layer of skin and a heavy blood supply. Cocaine also enters the bloodstream through the mucous membrane, which also becomes irritated as cocaine causes the blood vessels to constrict. The constant interaction between cocaine and the interior of a person’s nose can result in decaying cartilage and skin, which causes an even greater potential for nose bleeds due to a thinner layer of skin preventing blood from leaving the body.

If someone you know often suffers from nosebleeds and exhibits other signs of cocaine addiction, they might be using cocaine regularly. Dry air also can result in random nose bleeds, so understanding other effects of regular cocaine use can help someone determine if a loved one is at risk.

Cocaine Nose Collapse

Snorting cocaine regularly can negatively impact a person’s nose because the drug constricts blood vessels and limits the blood flow to the septum. When blood supply is limited, less oxygen is delivered to the septum and the lining begins to die, which can then cause the cartilage to die and perforations (holes) to form. When perforations form, a cocaine nose collapse can occur since the septum cartilage is what supports a person’s nose.

A septal perforation will not heal on its own. Therefore, using cocaine intranasally can cause permanent nasal damage or result in surgery.

Cocaine and Sinus Problems – Runny Nose, Blocked Nose, and Sneezing

In addition to a nose collapse, snorting cocaine also can cause sinus problems to form. Blood vessels are shrunk due to the drug’s presence, the mucous membrane becomes irritated and inflamed. When this happens, runny noses, a “stuffy” or “blocked” nose, sneezing and even sinus infections can occur.

Nose bleeds are another effect of the mucous membrane becoming irritated by the intranasal use of the popular stimulant. The combination of bleeding out the nose and regular sinus problems is a sign that someone might be snorting cocaine.

How to Heal Your Nose After Snorting Cocaine

Consistent intranasal cocaine use can lead to irreparable damage to a person’s nose. If the inner part of a person’s nose and mucous membrane are significantly affected, and enough time has passed, natural healing along with surgical repair might not be possible. Many people who regularly snort cocaine have disfigured or collapsed noses due to damaged septum cartilage.

If you or someone you know has started snorting cocaine — or has done so regularly for a while — there are health risks to not taking any action. Aside from potential, long-term damage to a person’s nose, using cocaine results in a chemical imbalance and a high likelihood of an addiction forming. Cocaine is an extremely dangerous drug. In 2017 there were around 14,000 overdose deaths due to using the stimulant.

Find the Help You or Your Loved One Needs

If you’re worried about the damage cocaine could be causing to you or a loved one, The Recovery Village’s representatives are waiting to assist you. The representatives can provide information on nearby doctors to learn whether any significant damage has occurred to the nose due to snorting cocaine. Afterward, a team of therapists and doctors can help you or your loved one enroll in rehabilitation, a chance to look toward a life without cocaine or any of the uncomfortable effects that often come with using the drug.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Karen Vieira, PhD
Dr. Karen Vieira has a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Florida College of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Read more

Millard, D R, and F A Mejia. “Reconstruction of the nose damaged by cocaine.” Plastic and reconstructive surgery, 2001. Accessed September 15, 2021.

NIDA. “How does cocaine produce its effects?.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, June 11, 2020. Accessed September 15, 2021.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with 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 providers.