Cocaine Inhalation and Nasal Damage

Cocaine Inhalation and Nasal Damage

Cocaine Inhalation and Nasal Damage

Cocaine Inhalation and Nasal DamageUsers of the illegal stimulant cocaine frequently choose to introduce the drug into their systems by inhaling (snorting) it through their nasal passages. When used in this manner, cocaine enters the bloodstream by passing through linings in the nasal interior called mucous membranes. People who inhale cocaine through their noses put themselves at a clear risk for developing forms of nasal damage that include a perforated septum, bleeding, a chronic allergy-like condition called rhinitis, and degradation of the nasal sidewalls that can lead to lifelong facial deformity.

Background Information

The nose interior (nasal cavity) is divided roughly in half by a wall called the nasal septum. A flexible type of connective tissue, called cartilage, forms the front section of this wall; the rear section of the septum is made from bone that connects to bones in the sinuses, face, and roof of the mouth. The nasal sidewalls, also known as the lateral nasal walls, are complex, bony structures that sit roughly parallel to the bony section of the nasal septum. Mucous membranes cover the entire interior surface of the nasal cavity; these membranes contain specialized glands that produce mucus, as well as cells called ciliated epithelial cells. In combination, mucus secretions and ciliated epithelial cells play a vital role in human health by trapping various particles, allergens and microorganisms, and expelling them from the nasal cavity before they can travel further into the body.

Effects of Cocaine Inhalation

Cocaine snorting is known in medical terms as cocaine insufflation. This practice damages nasal health in several different ways. First, when cocaine enters the body, it triggers an overactivation of a part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system. Among this system’s many duties is regulation of the interior diameter of the body’s blood vessels. Under the influence of cocaine, the sympathetic nervous system significantly narrows blood vessels throughout the body, including the vessels that send blood to the tissues in the nasal cavity. Consequences of this narrowing include an increase in blood pressure and a drop in the amount of blood that can easily flow through the vessels at any given time. Without their required blood supply, the tissues in the nasal cavity start to undergo destructive changes in their normal level of function and overall health.

Apart from its effects on the sympathetic nervous system, cocaine inhaled through the nose directly irritates the nasal mucous membranes. Over time, repeated irritation of these membranes can lead to destructive changes in membrane health. In addition, cocaine typically contains considerable amounts of other substances, such as talc and borax, that drug manufacturers purposefully add in order to reduce their costs and artificially increase the size of any given cocaine batch. These substances have their own irritating qualities and add significantly to the level of nasal irritation produced by cocaine inhalation.

Health Consequences

As indicated previously, cocaine inhalers can develop a perforated septum. This condition occurs when cocaine use leads to an amount of damage in the septum’s cartilage that’s sufficient to literally form a hole and provide abnormal access between the left and right portions of the nasal cavity. In most cases, septum perforations only appear after habitual, long-term cocaine inhalation; however, for a variety of reasons, some people develop this problem after only limited nasal cocaine use. Common consequences of a relatively large hole in the septum include breathing difficulties, recurring mild or severe nosebleeds, uncomfortable changes in normal nasal pressure, and abnormal degrees of dryness or crustiness in the mucous membranes.

The form of rhinitis associated with nasal inhalation of cocaine is known as nonallergic rhinitis. Typical symptoms of this condition include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and an unpleasant leakage of mucus down the throat commonly known as postnasal drip. In some cases, people with nonallergic rhinitis develop any one of a number of significant additional health complications, such as asthma, sleep apnea, recurring middle ear infections, loss of a normal sense of smell, and a chronic inflammation in the walls of the sinuses known as sinusitis.

Cocaine inhalation doesn’t just damage soft tissues in the nasal cavity. Over time, it can also damage the bones that form the cavity’s sidewalls. With repeated exposure to cocaine, these bones can degrade to a point where they lose their structural integrity. The resulting sidewall collapse can create a permanent form of nasal deformity sometimes referred to as “saddle nose,” according to a study published in 2005 in the British Dental Journal. The authors of this study also list additional potential consequences of nasal cocaine inhalation that include impairment of the vocal cords and the formation of ulcers in the nasal cavity or upper throat.

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