The People's Perspective on Medicine

Vaseline Should Stay Out of the Nostrils

Even when dry air makes breathing uncomfortable, we advise you to keep any type of oi, including petrolatum, out of the nostrils.
Cold. Portrait Of Beautiful Young Woman Sniffing Nasal Spray Closing One Nostril. Closeup Of Female Feeling Sick With Running Nose Using Sinus Medication For Blocked Nose. Healthcare. High Resolution

When the weather turns cold and the heat comes on, many people find that their noses become uncomfortably dry. As a result, they reach for any remedy that might offer some relief. Some people prefer Vicks VapoRub, while others turn to Vaseline. The trouble with both products is the petroleum jelly base. According to pulmonologists, it is important to keep petroleum products out of the nostrils. In fact, it might be wise not to put any sort of oil in your nose. Here’s why:

Why You Should Keep Vaseline Out of the Nostrils:

Q. I’ve been using Vaseline to moisturize my nostrils at night for 35 years. Without it, my nose dries out and I have chronic, unstoppable nosebleeds.

Vaseline has been my saving grace since I was a small child. I use it every night and have never encountered any side effects. I don’t know what I would do without this home remedy.

A. Despite your positive experience, we caution people not to put petroleum jelly in their noses. That means keeping both Vicks and Vaseline out of the nostrils.

Several years ago, a lung specialist contacted us to warn:

“Petroleum jelly or mineral oil can cause a chronic form of pneumonia when aspirated into the lungs.”

Such lipoid pneumonia is basically incurable, so he recommended using saline nasal spray instead. We have also heard from readers who have turned to a more unusual approach.

Personal Lubricant to Moisturize Dry Nostrils:

Q. Some people have written about dryness in the nose. I work for a man on oxygen all the time. His doctor said we could use KY Jelly to help keep his nose moist.

A. Thanks for the tip. We have often warned against the popular practice of putting Vaseline Petroleum Jelly or Vicks VapoRub in the nose. We worry that the petrolatum could be inhaled and cause lung irritation called lipoid pneumonia. The lungs have no good way to remove petroleum-based products. Indeed, even plant-based oils can trigger lipoid pneumonia, as one 83-year-old man taking avocado/soybean unsaponifiables for arthritis discovered (BMC Pulmonary Medicine, Dec. 3, 2019). 

We heard this from one person:

“I went to the hospital for an unrelated problem that prompted an X-ray and CT scan. The doctors found five nodules in my lungs.

“I met with a pulmonologist to discuss this. After I mentioned that I put Vicks in my nostrils every night, as I have for 10 years, and he looked at my CT scan, he diagnosed me with lipoid pneumonia. I am 41 and in very good health, so this was quite a surprise. I thought it was important to share.”

KY Jelly is a personal lubricant that is not petroleum based. As a result, it should not pose the danger that petroleum jelly does when it comes to treating dry nostrils. Others have suggested saline nasal sprays or a neti pot with a sterile saline solution to wash out the nasal passages and ease dryness.

We also received this suggestion from a flight attendant:

“I’m responding to the issue of using Vicks VapoRub or Mentholatum to keep the inside of the nose lubricated. I’m a flight attendant who flies long international flights (often 10 hours or more). Given the lack of humidity on the airplane, my nose was often uncomfortably dry, sometimes bleeding slightly.

“An Ear, Nose and Throat specialist recommended a product designed to be used inside the nose, without the petrolatum base of Vicks or Mentholatum. I have found two: ‘Nose Better‘ and ‘Ayr Gel.’

“These are not saline spray products (which seem to work well, but evaporate quickly), but gel that stays inside the nose and helps maintain appropriate moisture. They are both over-the-counter products, but often not regularly stocked. I’ve had good luck at many pharmacies just asking them to order the product for me. It makes a huge difference in my poor nose’s ability to tolerate the dryness of the airplane.”

We applaud using these products that provide relief while keeping petrolatum out of the nostrils.

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E-Cigarettes as a Source of Lipid in the Lungs:

Over the last several months, a number of previously healthy young people have been hospitalized and some have died. The investigations indicates that vaping or e-cigarette use are implicated in the lipoid pneumonia that has laid them low (BMC Case Reports, July 6, 2018; MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Sep. 13, 2019). Alarmingly, a seemingly innocuous compound, vitamin E acetate, has been linked to many of these cases (MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Oct. 25, 2019). In conclusion, this hazard should be enough to motivate even people with dry noses to keep any sort of oil out of their nostrils and their respiratory tracts.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Citations
  • Boutros J et al, "A case report of exogenous lipoid pneumonia associated with avocado/soybean unsaponifiables." BMC Pulmonary Medicine, Dec. 3, 2019. DOI: 10.1186/s12890-019-0997-1
  • Viswam D et al, "Respiratory failure caused by lipoid pneumonia from vaping e-cigarettes." BMC Case Reports, July 6, 2018. DOI: 10.1136/bcr-2018-224350
  • Davidson K et al, "Outbreak of electronic-cigarette-associated acute lipoid pneumonia - North Carolina, July-August 2019." MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Sep. 13, 2019. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6836e1
  • Lewis N et al, "E-cigarette use, or vaping, practices and characteristics among persons with associated lung injury - Utah, April-October 2019." MMWR Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Oct. 25, 2019. DOI: 10.15585/mmwr.mm6842e1
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After seeing the article on using KY jelly to relieve nasal dryness, I started using it. It works immediately, and I can then blow my nose to clear my sinuses. I follow it up with a saline nasal spray and it’s been working great.

As a nurse, I encounter many clients using Bactroban ointment in their bares to counteract chronic MRSA. I would assume this could be as dangerous as Vaseline.

And what about all those essential oil diffusers? I know people who diffuse Lavender oil next to their beds to help them sleep. How close is too close? Is it even safe to diffuse as an air freshener many feetaway from people?

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