Cocaine has heaps of nicknames — blow, snow, and nose candy are just three of many.
While it’s likened to candy, what cocaine can do to one’s nose is far from sweet.
It’s a stimulant drug that comes most often in white powder form. People snort it or mix it with water and inject it. Or, it’s processed into crack rocks that users smoke.
For thousands of years, people in South America chewed the leaves of the coca plant to enjoy a stimulant effect. Then, in the 19th century, a German chemist isolated cocaine from the leaves. It found use as a local anesthetic (which is still one of its uses today) and was added to wines and medicines, often marketed as having an invigorating effect.
In time, cocaine was outlawed but an excess hit U.S. markets in the 1970s, fueling the era of disco. Disco may have died, but dealers transformed the white powder into crack, dropped the prices, and the crack epidemic began.
Today, cocaine abuse remains a very real problem. In 2014, approximately 1.5 million people ages 12 and older admitted to using cocaine within the past month. Younger adults between the ages of 18 and 25 are nearly three times more likely to use the drug.
The danger of cocaine use — aside from cocaine being a schedule II drug on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances — is the stimulant is highly addictive and carries several health risks. Heart attacks, strokes, and seizures are all possible when using cocaine, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the first time or hundredth time.
What Does Cocaine Do to Your Nose?
There’s a reason the phrases cocaine nose, coke nose, or cocaine nose job exist. Google any of those phrases and you’ll see some unsettling things.
But first, a quick look at the nose. Your two nostrils are divided in the middle by the septum, a mix of cartilage and bone. That and the surrounding nostrils are lined with mucous membranes, which are very delicate.
Hairs grow in your nose, too, and everything works together to filter out dust, pollen, and other irritants. Sneezing or blowing the nose helps get rid of or keep out those kinds of unwelcome particles.
When snorting cocaine, the user is introducing a very powerful stimulant to a very sensitive area. The mucous membrane lining quickly absorbs cocaine and it enters the bloodstream. In the process, the blood vessels contract, and irritation and inflammation can quickly result.
Sneezing or blowing the nose are the quickest and most natural reactions to such irritation and inflammation. (Snorting substances can also lead to a runny or stuffy nose or nosebleeds.) Those are starting points for potential coke nose damage.
The longer cocaine abuse continues, the more likely the membranes can become injured and develop sores. Because the blood vessels shrink, eventually the area becomes starved of blood and the lining can erode.
Holes can form in the septum. The entire nasal septum may even wear away. Basically, when that happens, a person looks like they have one nostril.
Things can get worse. In time, the entire septum can collapse.
Cocaine abuse can also ruin a person’s sense of smell. That’s in addition to fueling heart problems, increasing a person’s risk of stroke, and causing seizures and headaches.
Signs of Nose Damage from Drugs
Not everyone experiences the same effects from drug abuse. They don’t experience effects on the same timeline. Everyone is unique.
There are some common signs of use, however. If a person exhibits new or unusual behaviors, such as hanging out with a new crowd, avoiding responsibilities, or getting into trouble with the law, those are red flags that something could be occurring.
People might also display visible (or audible) signs that they have been snorting cocaine:
- Nosebleeds, especially after blowing the nose
- Runny noses
- Trouble swallowing
They might also have drug paraphernalia or traces of drugs in their homes or on their possession. The paraphernalia might include crack pipes, mirrors, razor blades, lighters, traces of white powder, crack rocks, or other things.
How to Heal Your Nose After Doing Coke
Fortunately, the body has an amazing capacity to heal, and modern medicine has fantastic options for repairing damage to the nose after abusing cocaine.
In cases where the injuries aren’t too severe, once a person is drug-free they can make some simple changes to help their nasal cavities heal. These include putting a humidifier in the bedroom and using saline-based nose sprays. Antibiotic ointments may help too.
For more severe damage, a prosthesis may be necessary. A generic button implant or something custom-made can fill the gap. They can either be worn permanently (with the doctor inserting it), or be removed by the person for regular cleaning. These buttons can seal the hole in the septum and improve symptoms.
If people have septums that have collapsed completely, surgery may be the only option. In the most extreme cases, a plastic surgeon may have to remove cartilage from the ear or ribs to rebuild the nose.
Cocaine abuse and addiction aren’t the end of the road. It’s a tough substance to beat, since the stimulant rewires the brain’s reward pathways, but it can be done, especially by enlisting the help of addiction specialists who can work with you, from intake to detox to counseling to aftercare.
- drugabuse.gov – What Is Cocaine?
- history.com – Cocaine
- drugabuse.gov – What Is the Scope of Cocaine Use in the United States?
- drugabuse.gov – How Is Cocaine Used?
- urmc.rochester.edu – Anatomy and Physiology of the Nose and Throat
- themix.org – Coke and Your Nose
- uofmhealth.org – Cocaine
- healthline.com – What Is a Perforated Septum?
Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.
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