Addiction | 5 min read

What Does Cocaine Do To Your Nose?

Medically Reviewed

Medically Reviewed By

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

Dr. Po-Chang Hsu

On August 30, 2022

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On March 30, 2022

Cocaine Nose Dangers You need to know about
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Cocaine can be snorted, smoked, and injected into the bloodstream, but snorting cocaine delivers the “high” that lasts the longest, making it the method of choice among many users. While snorting cocaine may give you more bang for your buck, snorting can cause extensive damage to your nose over time, and some of this damage may be permanent.

For those seeking help, detox centers in New York offer specialized treatment options to address cocaine addiction and its effects.

How Does Cocaine Damage the Nose?

While the “high” you get from snorting cocaine may last longer than smoking or injection, it can cause considerable damage. Understanding how the nose is structured can make it easier to see how cocaine damages the nose. In a nutshell, the structure of the nose consists of:


  • The nasal septum – a wall made out of bone and cartilage that runs the length of your nose and divides the nasal cavity into two halves
  • Cartilage – which forms the front part of the septum to form the front wall of the nose
  • Mucous membrane linings – which cover the entire surface of the nasal cavity
  • A bony part of the septum that connects the nose to the bones of your face, sinuses, and roof of your mouth


Cocaine’s effects on the nose damage the mucous membrane linings and interfere with blood flow to the nose. While the damage to the membrane linings results from direct contact with cocaine, decreased blood flow stems from the effects that cocaine constricts blood vessels. Tightening of blood vessels limits the blood flow to the nose.


Once addiction sets in, frequent dosing becomes necessary to maintain cocaine’s “high” effect. Unless drug use stops, much of the damage done will be permanent. In other words, the nose takes a beating once addiction takes hold.

Damaging Effects of Cocaine on Your Nose, Sinuses & Nasal Cavity

Short-Term Effects

Damaging Effects of Cocaine on Your Nose

Short-term cocaine effects on the nose pave the way for the more serious problems with chronic use. To start, the powder absorbs through the mucous membrane linings and enters the bloodstream. Since most forms of cocaine powder are cut with other materials, such as laxatives and caffeine, these substances also damage when snorting cocaine.


Initial damage to the membrane linings typically results in a stuffy nose. Your nasal airways become obstructed as the membrane linings become inflamed. From there, cocaine’s effects on blood flow shrink the blood vessels in your nose, which blocks blood flow. As cocaine’s effects wear off, some blood vessels can burst, resulting in nosebleeds. Irritated membrane linings can also cause nosebleeds, especially when the underlying blood vessels become exposed.

Deviated Septum

When the septum (the wall that divides your nasal cavity in half) becomes misaligned, one nostril appears larger than the other. This is what’s known as a deviated septum. This condition develops as repeated irritation to the cartilage and mucous lining start to alter the shape of the septum.


Nasal congestion and breathing problems typically result from a deviated septum. Over time, snorting cocaine can cause breathing problems that progress to the point where your quality of life starts to suffer. Other symptoms of a deviated septum include:


  • Headaches
  • Facial pain
  • Problems sleeping
  • Frequent sinus infections
  • Loud snoring
  • Runny nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Dry nasal passages

Perforated Septum

The combined effects of irritated membrane linings and reduced blood flow create prime conditions for a perforated septum to develop. With long-term use, cocaine effects on the nose reach a point where the cells that make up the septum start to die off, creating a hole or perforation in the septum. Over time, cocaine’s ability to reduce blood flow depletes the amount of oxygen that reaches the cells and tissues that make up the nose. These conditions result in cell death. The hole will continue to grow for as long as snorting cocaine continues.


Symptoms to watch for include:


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

Hard Palate Damage

Cocaine is a highly addictive drug, meaning once you’re hooked, the rate you use the drug increases. Not only the rate but the amount used steadily increases as well. Part of the reason for this is a cocaine “high” is relatively short compared to other types of drugs and is very intense. These conditions drive frequent drug use, which allows addiction to develop at a fast rate.


Hard palate damage develops from chronic, long-term cocaine abuse. The damage to the nasal structures has progressed to where structures that run alongside the nose start to take on damage. The hard palate of the mouth, or roof, sits right next to the inside of the nose. Irritated mucous linings and reduced blow flow kill off the cells that make up the palate, eating away at the bone. Before long, holes at the top of the mouth start to form.


Signs of hard palate damage include:


  • Problems swallowing
  • Nasal-sounding voice
  • Food or liquid may come out of the nose when eating or drinking


“Saddle Nose”

Cocaine affects the nose not only damage the inside of the nose but also the outside in terms of how the nose looks. Saddle nose describes a condition where the damage to the septum has become so extensive that the septum can no longer hold up the nostrils. In effect, the nose collapses, making it appear flatter and wider. At this point, only plastic surgery can correct the problem since the damage is permanent.

When to Consider Getting Treatment Help

When to Consider Getting Treatment Help

As one of the most addictive drugs, it doesn’t take very long before a runny nose turns into a deviated septum. Stopping cocaine use offers the only way to avoid the progressive damage that cocaine causes to the nose. The first step to stopping cocaine use is detox. Withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 24 hours of the last cocaine use since the drug’s effects are not long-lasting. For most people, withdrawal symptoms can continue for 3 to 5 days. Chronic cocaine abusers can experience Post-Active Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), which may persist long after initial withdrawal.

Cocaine’s not one of those drugs that you can walk away from when addiction takes hold. Its effects create a dependency that traps your mind and body inside a vicious cycle of drug abuse. So if you’re considering getting treatment help, it’s best to take action sooner rather than later while you can still make a choice.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance abuse and looking for a Rehab in New York, Ascendant is here to help. Our inpatient substance abuse treatment programs can help you break your addiction and create the healthy lifestyle patterns needed for sustained sobriety. We also offer NYC IOP Programs for newly sober individuals who need ongoing support and guidance. Call Ascendant NY today.

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Amanda Stevens


Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. Read more

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