Q. I read in your newspaper column about a person who developed a lung problem after putting petroleum jelly in his nose for a long time. I have been putting Vaseline in my nose every day for years to prevent nosebleeds.

A long time ago I had to go to doctors regularly because of nose bleeds that I could not stop. They would cauterize the blood vessel and I would be good for awhile until it happened again. Back I would go for another zap to cauterize another spot.

Finally a different doctor said my blood vessels are very close to the surface in my nose and I needed something to keep my nasal tissues moist. He told me to put Neosporin or Vaseline in my nose every time it became dry which happens frequently during the day and night.

That was over 30 years ago and I have only had 5 or 6 nosebleeds since. Now I am worried, though. I do have a chronic cough that I always attributed to allergies. What else can I use to keep my nose moist? I do not want a chronic lung problem or have my nosebleeds come back.

A. Some ear, nose and throat specialists recommend petroleum jelly (petrolatum) to moisten the nasal passages but lung experts have told us to warn against this practice. They worry that this greasy petroleum product could migrate from the nose to the lungs and lead to an inflammatory condition called lipoid pneumonia. Repeated inhalation of fatty substances like petroleum jelly are not good for lung tissue and could set up a chronic cough as a symptom of trouble ahead.

If you read the label on a jar of Vicks VapoRub (which contains petrolatum) you will discover the warning: “Do not use in nostrils.”

We received this message from Dave:

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“I went to the hospital for something unrelated and as result of an -X-ray and CT scan they found 5 nodules in my lungs. I met with a pulmonologist on Friday. After I mentioned that I put Vicks in my nostrils every night (and have for about 10 years), he diagnosed me with Lipoid Pneumonia. I should mention I am 41 and in very good health. This was quite a surprise.”

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H.L. Added this:

“I’ve been using petroleum jelly in my nose during the day and also just before bed for the past couple of years. About 4-6 months ago I started to develop a really persistent non-productive cough. Had read about the petroleum jelly causing pneumonia, but didn’t think that it would happen to me. Well there you go… Probably time to stop.”

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We would encourage you to start thinking of a salt water solution to moisten your dry nose. The official name is “normal saline” or isotonic saline which is 0.90% sodium chloride.

Getting the right concentration of salt to water can sometimes be tricky if you try to make saline in your kitchen. We also worry that tap water may not always be sterile, especially if you are using well water that has not been treated with chlorine in a municipal water supply. Even treated water can become contaminated with fungi in home plumbing.

A safer bet would be saline purchased in a pharmacy. We are particularly enthusiastic about Ocean Saline Nasal Care in part because they have a full line of saline products. Their special nasal spray container delivers a fine mist to dry tissues. They have a hypoallergenic, preservative-free formulation that can relive a dry nose or ease symptoms of allergies, a cold or the flu. Unlike vasoconstrictors found in nasal decongestants, saline nasal sprays are not addicting.

Bottom line: please stop using petroleum jelly in your nose and switch to saline spray. 


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  1. Lou G
    Reply

    This topic has come up many times in this forum. I posted my experience here several years ago that I was advised by a Personal Care MD to use saline at night before bedtime, followed with vaseline around the nostrils. I bought the generic brand of nasal spray and have had almost no problem with dry nostrils and nose bleeds.
    However, at a later date, the same appeared here again, and People’s Pharmacy recommended personal lubricant gel as it was more water based rather than petroleum based. I bought the name brand at first, but then begin using a generic type. The only thing I see is in the morning tiny balls of the gel formed around the nostrils, but as I haven’t developed any problems, I suspect even if I inhaled one of these tiny balls, it wouldn’t hurt.

  2. Sandie
    Reply

    Emu oil has been suggested for me. I use at night but I end up swallowing it and after a few nights I start to get upset stomach. My cat sure loves the smell. He goes into the trash can to get the the q tip out!

  3. chronicillnessfighter
    Reply

    It does seem to follow that any fatty substance could cause lipoid pneumonia. However, I am curious to know with surety if it is only petroleum-based products that can cause this condition. I would be interested in trying a food-grade oil, like almond, olive, or coconut IF it’s safe.
    Could someone at People’s Pharmacy please address this? Thank you. :)

  4. Dana
    Reply

    If you read the article on lipoid pneumonia cited in the People’s Pharmacy article, pretty much any oil/fatty substance you put in your nose is subject to inhalation and could result in this condition.

  5. David
    Reply

    I have been alternating between olive oil, castor oil & lanolin for more than one year.
    They have all worked well for me.
    The castor oil was effective for quickly healing a cyst inside one nostril. The olive oil provides very quick relief but drips. Liquid lanolin is similar to olive oil but has a heavier viscosity. My favorite is cream lanolin.
    Cream lanolin is sold in a plastic jar & looks like petroleum jelly except that it is the color of honey.
    It is easy to dip a cotton swab into the cream lanolin & apply the lanolin where it needs to go.
    Because of its heavy viscosity it does not drip quickly.
    It is VERY effective when I have been working in very dry, dusty conditions. Lanolin is a secretion from the wool of sheep and does not cause any problems for me.
    I only apply lubricants via a cotton swab while standing and rarely just prior to bedtime. I mention that I do not typically apply just prior to bedtime because if I were about to be horizontal the possibility of aspirating some of the lubricant would be increased.
    In my opinion, even if I was about to go to bed, it would be very hard to apply an excessive amount of lubricant via a cotton swab while standing. Thank you again, People’s Pharmacy, for continuing to provide up-to-date information, all of the time!

  6. Tom
    Reply

    Hi, I had never really had a dry nose until recently. I have tried a variety of these saline solutions and I have to say, they are absolutely terrible for dry nose. Regardless if I use it once or many times, my nose becomes 10x as dry and very sticky, it has even escalated to the point of bleeding where I quit the saline permanently. Vaseline is amazing for it but I read here how bad it could be over time, and replacing it with another oil, natural or not, doesn’t seem any better. Has anyone found any other safe effective solutions they could add?

  7. Sonam
    Reply

    Has THE PEOPLE’S PHARMACY commented on the use of olive oil instead of petrolatum products? This is important.

  8. ct
    Reply

    Doctor had me using BACITRACIN each night and when going outdoors. Not a cure but it does keep insides moist. Been this way for 5 years.

  9. David
    Reply

    Since my question regarding Lipoid Pneumonia was published on September 23, 2012 I have been applying copious quantities of olive oil via cotton swabs to moisturize & then clean my nostrils.
    It is very effective.
    I have discovered that a Q-tip is shorter than my sinus and that no matter how much olive oil I put on a swab, it does not migrate to my lungs.
    I have also begun consuming coconut oil because I read on People’s Pharmacy how the coconut oil enables the body’s natural antibodies to eliminate nefarious microbes.
    I also consume plain, Greek-style yogurt to keep my gut flora populated and to keep my arginine to lysine ratio balanced (coconut = arginine, yogurt = lysine).
    Employing these three therapies, I have intentionally spent extended periods of time around obviously sick people while at work in an enclosed office building.
    I have experienced no illness since Sept 2012 and continue enjoying good health as of today, praise God! Today’s date: 04-03-2013

  10. MM
    Reply

    I’m very much in the same situation and am curious to hear a response. Any luck?

  11. David
    Reply

    Subject: Lipoid Pneumonia
    Question: As an alternative to petroleum-based moisturizers or commercially-prepared moisturizers, if I moisten the inside of my dry nostrils with non-hydrogenated olive oil or coconut oil on a cotton swab before going to bed, am I applying a substance (excluding the cotton) that would be generally recognized as leading to Lipoid Pneumonia if aspirated?
    Would vitamin E oil be safe?
    What readily available, single-ingredient substitute for petroleum jelly or mineral oil would be generally regarded as safe?
    Salt does not provide relief for my dry nostrils, I need to be able to apply a moisturizing gel for prolonged comfort.
    Thank you for all the fantastic information that you’ve published over the years.

  12. A.S.
    Reply

    I use lanolin for this purpose. My thinking is that if an animal source product finds its way into my lungs, my lungs should be able to handle that better than they can handle a mineral source product like vaseline. I have no proof that my thinking is correct. Saline gel, like Ayr, did not help me.

  13. s.h.
    Reply

    lisinopril is, indeed, a cough maker. horrid, horrid coughs………….

  14. kg
    Reply

    My daughter had frequent nosebleeds when she was younger, so I started giving her 1 or 2 fish oil capsules daily to soothe and moisten her nasal passages. Within one week of starting this regimen, her nosebleeds stopped.

  15. DWD
    Reply

    I still disagree with the lung experts as I have used Vicks or Vaseline for at least 6 decades. All they see are the actual cases, and how many per 100,000 people get this problem and how does that compare with other diseases occurrence. It seems to be a rare occurrence.
    But some posters say they use it daily and at bedtime, which I have ceased. So I have modified my usage. I use it sparingly trying not to get a gob of it on the q-tip before applying it in my nose.
    I do not use it daily and use the Ayr saline gel first. That way I keep it to at most every other day in the dry winter months. I also do not use it before bedtime, but at least an hour before bed on the theory that it is easier to get it in the lungs accidentally when lying down.

  16. Gin
    Reply

    My husband and I have used generic brand of saline nose spray every night for years. It does wonders for keeping the nose moist and eliminating the stuffy nose syndrome.

  17. cm
    Reply

    Your website and newsletters are very informative.
    My question is:
    I have been using nasal gel for my dry nose, AYR Nasal saline gel and also neilmed nasal gel Spray. what are your opinions on these for the dry nose.
    Thank you, Catherine
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: These are all reasonable options. None of them contains petroleum jelly.

  18. RL
    Reply

    My E N T said no Vicks but Vasoline fine. Been doing Vasoline for 5 years with some coughing. Just got Saline and quit Vasoline. R L

  19. fbl
    Reply

    First, if someone is bleeding that easily from their nose I’d think something else is going on. My guess is they are lacking vitamin K.
    Would a more natural oil such as coconut or palm ease nasal dryness? Also, if the nose is that dry I’d bet the rest of her skin is pretty dry too. Probably needs more natural oils in her diet.

  20. LJ
    Reply

    I make saline solution for my neti pot from cooled, boiled water, salt and baking soda; is boiling the water enough to sterilize it?

  21. NT
    Reply

    The chronic cough may be attributed to Linsinopril. It is a common side affect of that medication.

  22. wendy
    Reply

    Olive oil works beautifully.

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