An Overview of Dry Nose in COPD

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Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive condition that makes it difficult for you to breathe. COPD treatments, including supplemental oxygen, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) or bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP), may cause side effects including irritation, dryness, and cracking of the nose. Several home remedies and over-the-counter medications can help re-moisturize your nasal passages and prevent uncomfortable nasal dryness.

Symptoms

The medical term for nasal dryness is rhinitis sicca. The condition itself is relatively harmless but may be uncomfortable. Symptoms include:

  • A dry and/or tight feeling inside the nasal passages
  • Nasal itchiness
  • Cracking inside the nose
  • Bleeding from the nose
  • Formation of dry crusts inside the nose

Causes

COPD itself may be responsible for increased nasal inflammation, but several treatment methods used to mitigate symptoms of COPD may also result in nasal discomfort and dryness. These include:

  • Supplemental oxygen: Medical oxygen contains no moisture, so regular or even occasional use can dry out your nasal passages.
  • BiPAP and CPAP machines: The continuous flow of cold, dry air can make it difficult for the nose to maintain moisture levels throughout the night.
  • Antihistamines: Antihistamines work by limiting mucus production in the body, which may lead to dried-out nasal passages.
  • Steroids: Corticosteroids work to reduce inflammation and swelling in airways and may also limit mucus production as a side effect of this process.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics prescribed for lung infections may cause decreased mucus.
  • Medication changes: Altering your medication regimen for COPD may have a side effect of dry nose. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms.

If your nose is dry and irritated and you use supplemental oxygen, don't discontinue or change your flow without consulting your physician or respiratory therapist.

Treatment

There is no hard-and-fast solution for dry nose when you're battling COPD. However, there are a few products you may want to have on hand that can help prevent and relieve nasal dryness, including saline spray, water-based lubricant, and an oxygen humidifier. 

Nasal Saline Spray

Nasal saline spray adds moisture to dry nasal passages and assists your nose's natural cleaning system. It's important to keep your nasal passages moist because bacterial infections can develop under the nasal crusts that develop inside dry nostrils.

Nasal saline spray is a great natural option for those wanting an inexpensive, risk-free alternative to medication. 

You can purchase pure saline over the counter. Or, you can make your own and use a bulb syringe or neti pot to irrigate your nasal passages.

Water-Based Lubricant

Water-based lubricants, such as K-Y jelly, help prevent dryness, irritation, and cracking of the nose commonly associated with supplemental oxygen therapy, BiPAP, and CPAP by adding moisture to the affected area. You can also use aloe vera.

Avoid oil-based lubricants, including products with petroleum jelly. It's rare, but inhaling fat-based substances for a prolonged period of time can cause additional lung problems. There may be no symptoms or you might develop a cough, have chest pain, or experience shortness of breath.

Oxygen Humidifier

For patients wearing a nasal cannula for standard oxygen supplementation, switching to high-flow nasal cannula oxygen therapy (HNFC) may be a good alternative to combat the side effect of dry nose.

HFNC consists of an active humidifier, a single heated circuit, an air-oxygen blender, and a nasal cannula. It helps patients expel carbon dioxide from anatomical dead space, which can be difficult for COPD patients. It also helps avoid a dry nose. Published reports suggest HNFC decreases the energy required for breathing.

Though generally considered safe to use, discuss your desire to use an oxygen humidifier with your doctor. It is often a matter of personal preference; cost and the time it takes to manage the device should be considered.

Heated Humidifier and Full-Face Mask for CPAP

Similar to an HFNC, using a heated humidifier and full-face mask for CPAP could be a good option for those who suffer from dry nasal passages as a result. Adding a heated humidifier attachment to your machine will push warm, moist air through, instead of cold, dry air.

Additionally, using a full-face mask instead of a nasal pillow creates a seal around more of the face, which means air leaks are less likely to occur. Air leaks are a primary cause of nasal dryness in those who use CPAP machines.

A Word From Verywell

If minor dryness starts to worsen and you notice more bleeding, cracking, or dry crusts forming inside your nose, seek help from your doctor, who may be able to recommend other medications to help. Nasal dryness isn't really cause for concern, but you do not need to live with the discomfort.

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