Traveling anywhere in the world that is considered a hot, desert-like climate can be the cause of dryness that affects your nose, eyes, and mouth; however, it is the dryness that affects your nasal cavity that is particularly irritating. Why? Because it causes symptoms that include bleeding; irritation; itching, a strange sensation of burning, and/or even alteration of smell and taste.
The closest description to the symptoms may be non-allergic rhinitis (runny nose) or a syndrome of nasal inflammation from other causes. Some people suffer from nasal dryness from blowing their noses too much; others from more serious conditions like an autoimmune disorder that can worsen this otherwise annoying condition. Of course, your provider can tell you which category you fall into, and treatment options can then be made available for your particular case.
How does the nose work?
To understand how symptoms of nasal dryness occur, it is important to provide a brief overview of how the nose functions.
Primarily, the nose serves as the only means of bringing warm, humidified air into the lungs. It is the primary organ for filtering out particles as we breathe in, and serves as the first line of immunological defense.
The inspired air naturally comes into contact with your nasal lining, which has specialized functions to keep this area of the body moist. Your olfactory system is what gives you your sense of smell, and in some ways, your sense of taste too.
Any disruption of the nasal cavity or lining can lead to nasal dysfunction. Here are a few examples.
- Postnasal drainage
- Facial pressure
- Sinus pressure and infections
It is believed that the upper airway - specifically the nose and sinuses - work in tandem with the lower airway. The unified airway is an integrated system, and whatever affects one portion of the airway, affects the other.
The main function of the nose is to warm and humidify (moisten) the intake of air, which is a vital part of the unified airway process. An environment that is arid causes the inner lining of your nose to become dry, which in turn results in nasal irritation, and can also cause airway distress and breathing problems.
What is the nasal airflow?
The sniff is an important part of the nasal airflow simply for breathing in oxygen, or wanting to use your sense of smell that is generated through your olfactory system (which includes the nose).
Adults breathe in and condition more than 14,000 liters of air per day. This requires more than 680 grams of water, which amounts to 20% of our daily water intake. So, if your nose becomes dry, it is not just the dryness that is causing you problems, you can become dehydrated as well. Relief comes in the form of hydration, which means you need to drink water, and plenty of it.
As we breathe in, air flows up into the higher portion of the nasal cavity and then the airstream turns posterior - approximately 90 degrees - before down into the nasopharynx. This 90-degree turn allows air to enter into the back of your throat and voice box.
The narrowest part of the upper airway is called the nasal valve. The nasal valve is the area just inside the nose, about 2 cm back from the opening. This is the area where the nasal dryness can be most apparent and cause the most symptoms.
Humidification of the air as we breathe in occurs by evaporation of moisture from the nasal lining. Air is humidified to 75-80%. The air is also warmed to 36 degrees Celsius from the contact between air and the rich blood supply of the nasal lining, especially the lining on the sidewalls of the nose called the inferior turbinates.
What can cause nasal dryness other than a dry environment?
Colds, allergies, and sinus infections are known to cause nose dryness, or can at least contribute to an already existing problem. Nasal dryness can also be associated with a runny nose, crusting, scabs, and/or bleeding issues. If you repetitively use a tissue to stop a runny nose, the constant rubbing can further aggravate the problem, including irritating the skin around the nose.
How to treat nasal dryness
Treat the underlying cause. If you have allergies, a cold, or an infection, it is important to be treated for those conditions first.
Avoid hot, dry environments, if possible.
Understand that freezing weather can contribute to dry nose issues.
Consider using a humidifier in your home and/or office.
Use tissues that are made with soothing lotions such as shea butter, aloe, and vitamin E which are known to help eliminate irritation of the outer nostril.
Avoid breathing in dust or other allergens.
Keep the nasal cavity moist. This fact cannot be overemphasized enough.
Participate in a daily routine of using a balanced (pH) saline solution to instantly clear the nasal passages of irritants, allergens, dust, to keep nose and upper airway healthy.
Do not use anything but saline for moisture purposes.
Avoid medications that have decongestants, at least long term since they can be addictive and cause a rebound congestion that is difficult to treat.
If possible, use a room humidifier. Note: A steamy shower or steam room also helps.
Apply a moisturizer to the skin around the nose. Most are formulated with glycerin which draws water into the skin to heal and soothe the irritation.
Note that using petroleum jelly may not be as effective since this product is not water soluble.
Stop picking! Rubbing, touching, and picking at the dry areas of your nose just causes further inflammation and potential bleeding and swelling, not to mention infections.
Dry, desert-like environments are the primary cause of dry nose irritation. Adding moisture to the air you breathe is the number one ‘fix’ for this problem, and can not be overemphasized enough. A daily routine of using a balanced (pH) saline solution to instantly clear the nasal passages of irritants, allergens, dust, and more is also particularly important in keeping the nose and upper airway healthy. It is important not to use anything but saline during the process. Avoid medications that contain decongestants, especially long-term, since they can be addictive and cause a rebound congestion that is difficult to treat. With this said, the first step in combating dry nose problems is to consult your healthcare provider to make sure there are no underlying medical conditions that are the actual root of your problem.
Have your health provider determine what is causing nasal dryness.
Make sure to treat the cause, which can be more than simply breathing dry air.
Symptoms include nosebleeds, irritation, a sensation of burning or a change in smell or taste.
Avoid using medications that contain decongestants, at least long-term.
If you can, consider using a humidifier to add moisture to the air in your indoor environment, such as your bedroom.
Reduce tissue usage when experiencing a runny nose.
Most importantly, drink plenty of fluids, primarily water!