The lining of our nasal passages are very sensitive. A burning sensation or pain in the nostrils is a common occurrence, especially in conjunction with other signs and symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing and nasal congestion. It is usually not a cause for concern. However, in some cases, a burning sensation in the nose may be caused by a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention for example with a foreign body lodged in the nasal cavity which is more common in small children. Regardless of the severity, treatment of the underlying cause should eliminate the burning sensation inside the nose.
Causes of Burning Inside the Nose
There are many different causes of a burning sensation or pain inside the nose. Some of the common causes are described below.
Allergies are one of the most common causes of nasal discomfort in people. An allergy is caused by a hypersensitive immune system, which responds inappropriately to a harmless substance. The substance which triggers the unexpected and inappropriate immune response is known as the allergen. It is important to note that allergens are not the cause of allergies. They are simply the triggers. The main cause of allergy is a fault in the immune response.
The most common allergic reaction involving the nasal passage is known as allergic rhinitis. In some people, allergic rhinitis occurs only during certain seasons. In others, rhinitis may be present perennially throughout the year. The most common allergens that act as triggers for allergic rhinitis include pollen, spores, house mites, dust, molds, and even cockroach body parts. Smoke may also trigger episodes of allergic rhinitis.
Read more on allergic rhinitis.
Nasal passages also get irritated upon coming in contact with certain airborne chemical irritants. Examples of such irritants include smoke, toxic gases, sand, coal dust, and paints. These common environmental irritants frequently cause burning sensations inside the nose. In addition, the nasal passages also react to these irritants through sneezing and production of mucus (runny nose).
In many cases, the presence of airborne irritants (such as smoke and paint) becomes obvious to the person through the sense of smell. However, some of these irritants may be odorless. Nevertheless, the nose can still detect and respond to these odorless irritants in the same way as it reacts to the irritants that can be smelt. Living in places with high levels of air pollution predisposes a person to burning sensations in the nose (and other nasal conditions). Sometimes, the offending place may not be obvious (such as a gas leak in a building).
Certain strong odors could also act as nasal irritants, and cause burning sensations and other symptoms in the nose. Examples of strong odors that can cause burning nasal sensations include perfumes, deodorants, detergents, soaps, air-fresheners, and industrial chemicals. This is not surprising since odors are also chemicals. A pleasant smelling perfume is a vaporized chemical, and its detection requires a physical interaction with the receptors inside the nose.
The reaction of people to these strong odors varies considerably. Not everyone will have burning sensations in the nose when they detect a strong odor. However, some people are very sensitive to strong odors, and their nasal passages react more violently compared to that of others. Also, the reaction does not depend on whether the strong odor is pleasant or unpleasant. Both pleasant and unpleasant odors can cause burning nasal sensations.
The moisture level inside the nasal passages is an important determinant of the healthy functioning of the nose. The mucus produced by the mucus membranes of the nasal passages keeps the environment inside the nose moist, and helps in trapping airborne irritants before they reach the lungs. Sometimes, the mucus production by the lining of the nasal passages becomes inadequate to maintain high moisture levels. This can happen during dry weather conditions such as winters, and also due to indoor air conditioning and heating systems.
Dryness of nasal passages leads to a variety of bothersome nasal symptoms. These include burning sensations inside the nose, accumulation of dry and crusty mucus, and nasal congestion. Blood flow to the nasal mucosa may also be altered in dry nasal conditions, leading to burning sensations. This is known as vasomotor rhinitis.
Use of inhalers and nasal sprays could also lead to burning nasal sensations. Nasal sprays are used as medications to treat a variety of allergic and nasal conditions. Nasal sprays are usually made up of chemicals such as antihistamines, decongestants, saline and steroids. These substances irritate the lining of the nasal passages, leading to sneezing and burning sensations. However, these symptoms are short-lived and occur only at the time of application of nasal sprays. Sometimes, stopping the use of a nasal spray may also cause nasal symptoms. This condition is technically referred to as rhinitis medicamentosa.
Apart from inhalers and nasal sprays, other inhaled irritants could also cause nasal symptoms. For example, crushed and pulverized tobacco (snuff) is inhaled by some people. Also, some illicit drugs (such as cocaine) are usually snorted through the nose by the addicts. These substances can also be the cause of pain and burning sensation inside the nose.
Apart from allergies, the nasal mucosa can also get irritated by infections. The most common are the viral infections that cause cold. However, bacteria and fungi could also be responsible for nasal infections. In some cases, irritation of the nose may not be attributable to either allergies or infections. These cases are referred to as non-allergic, non-infectious rhinitis (NAINR). An example is rhinitis caused by spicy foods. This is also referred to as gustatory rhinitis. Hormonal changes in the body could also result in rhinitis.
The presence of foreign bodies inside the nose is most commonly seen in young children. Children have a tendency to playfully insert small objects inside their nostrils. Sometimes, these objects get lodged deep inside the nasal passages, and cause discomfort, pain and burning sensation. These cases should be considered as medical emergencies, since the offending objects may cause choking and other types of serious damage.
Read more on nasal pain.