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Cocaine and Your Nose: Physical Effects of Cocaine

Snorting cocaine is the most common way people use the drug. With regular and prolonged use, this can cause a variety of issues with the nasal and respiratory system. 

Cocaine Basics

When someone snorts cocaine, they are using the powder form of the drug.

Cocaine is a stimulant, so it causes the following effects:

  • Euphoria
  • Talkativeness
  • Light, sound, and touch hypersensitivity
  • More energy
  • Increased mental alertness

Cocaine is typically cut with a variety of substances, such as laundry detergent, boric acid, baking soda, or other types of white powder. These substances are generally not intended for human consumption. Each of these may cause their own health effects, adding to the damage that cocaine initiates

What Happens When Snorting Cocaine?

When someone snorts cocaine, they inhale it through a nostril. The powder goes through the nasal passages and enters blood vessels.

Once it enters the bloodstream, cocaine quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier and affects the brain. In the brain, cocaine causes a flood of dopamine, which results in the intense high associated with the drug.

The effects are felt quickly via this method of ingestion. 

Physical Damage to the Nose 

Cocaine use causes a variety of adverse effects regardless of the method of intake. When the drug is snorted, additional damage can occur.

When someone snorts cocaine for a long time, they will damage the septal tissues in their nose. Over time, this can result in the tissues wearing away until there is a hole in the septum. When a hole in the septum is present, it may negatively affect how a person breathes.

Other possible symptoms can include:

  • Abnormal smell in the nose
  • Pain in the nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Feeling like there is something in the nose obstructing the nostrils
  • Crusting of the nose
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Scabbing in the nose
  • A wheezing sound in the nose when someone is inhaling

This is similar to a septal perforation in that there is a hole. The only difference is the hole is in the roof of the mouth instead of the nose.

With prolonged snorting of cocaine, tissues at the roof of the mouth can experience ischemia, necrosis, and ulceration. If this problem occurs, the person might need to have surgery to correct it.

Rhinitis occurs as a result of something irritating the nose and nasal passages. With frequent snorting of cocaine, the tissues and structures in these areas can experience inflammation and irritation, resulting in this condition.

The symptoms can include the following:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Cough
  • Stuffy nose
  • Post-nasal drip that causes mucus in the throat

For some people, the symptoms are intermittent, but they can be constant for others. When someone has chronic rhinitis, they are also at risk for sinusitis, nasal polyps, and middle ear infections.

When someone snorts cocaine, it goes through their nasal passages. This can lead to inflammation or infection in the sinus cavities, resulting in sinusitis. The symptoms may include:

  • Pressure, pain, or fullness around the eyes, in the head, or the face
  • Congested, stuffy, or blocked nose
  • Cold-like symptoms that will not go away

This condition can be either acute or chronic. To be diagnosed with chronic sinusitis, the symptoms have to be present for a minimum of 12 weeks, and the person must have at least two sinusitis symptoms. It is possible for people who snort cocaine to experience both acute and chronic sinusitis.

Due to the continual irritation of the nasal passages, it is possible to experience nosebleeds. These may occur when a person is actively snorting cocaine, or they could occur randomly and without warning. The more severe the inflammation and irritation of the nasal passages, the more likely it is that someone will experience this problem.

Other Physical Effects of Snorting Cocaine 

The damage from snorting cocaine isn’t limited to just the nose.

This type of infection is also referred to as the common cold. It is not a systemic illness like influenza.

It affects any part of the upper respiratory tract, such as the bronchi, pharynx, nose, larynx, or throat.  This infection can occur in people who snort cocaine as a result of damage or inflammation to the components of the upper respiratory tract. 

The most common symptoms include nasal congestion, sneezing, sputum production, and a cough. The following possible symptoms may also occur:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Pain when trying to swallow

This condition is characterized by a clot elsewhere in the body getting into the lungs. It can result in reduced oxygen levels and less blood flow to the lungs.

While some people do not experience symptoms, most people do. When they occur, they can include the following:

  • Sudden shortness of breath even when resting
  • Clammy or pale skin that may also have a bluish tint
  • Cough that may also have bloody sputum
  • Anxiousness or passing out
  • Pain that is sharp in the chest, shoulder, jaw, arm, or neck
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Wheezing

If this issue is not treated, it can be life-threatening. There is also the potential for heart damage when a pulmonary embolism is left untreated.

General Damage

The effects listed above are specific to snorting the drug.

man in pain

Any form of cocaine use — rubbing it on the gums, injecting it, or smoking it — results in a range of other issues, such as cardiovascular problems, respiratory difficulties, organ damage, and increased risk of stroke.

In particular, cocaine use can result in heart damage that can lead to a heart attack. 

Even short-term use of cocaine can have negative effects on health.

Get help to stop using the drug to reduce the chances of long-term damage.


What Are the Short-Term Effects of Cocaine Use? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from

(February 2018) What is a Perforated Septum? Healthline. Retrieved February 2019 from

(November 2007) Cocaine-Induced Palatal Perforation. New England Journal of Medicine. Retrieved February 2019 from

Nonallergic Rhinitis. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved February 2019 from

(March 2018) Acute Upper Respiratory Infection. Healthline. Retrieved February 2019 from

Sinusitis. American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head, and Neck Surgery. Retrieved February 2019 from

Pulmonary Embolism. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved February 2019 from

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