Ep. 22: What’s the Best Alternative to Nose Vaseline?
This episode is going to deal with the extremely common practice of using nose vaseline. I have previously written an extensive blog post detailing how placing vaseline inside the nose may be very dangerous. Although the risk is low, it is a risk many people do not realize they are taking.
To be clear. Vaseline is the specific name of one brand of petroleum jelly. So if you are using an off brand, the risk is the same or higher. Vaseline is the original brand that clearly touts their triple processing techniques to purify the petroleum. Other companies do not have the same seal of purification, but many people assume it is equal.
There are blogs which share techniques to make petroleum jelly as a home-based business to sell to places like grocery stores. Yikes! I like the idea of the triple processing steps that OG Vaseline uses.
What is Vaseline?
Vaseline petroleum jelly was initially produced as a result of refining oil. Back in the 1800s, it was noted to be the slimy substance in the bottom of oil rigs! Yes, our beloved Vaseline was discovered as a by-product of the oil industry. Now extensive processing happens to make it safe to use on our bodies. On the outside of our bodies.
Vaseline is a mixture of mineral oils and waxes which works by forming a seal between dry or damaged skin cells; therefore, it locks in the moisture and speeds up the healing process.
This gooey-goodness has many benefits when used for purposes located on the skin, hair or nails. The original product has been clearly marked to be used externally only. On the skin, and not inside the body. However, there are many products with petroleum jelly that I have recently discovered do not add this important label!
I went to a few stores and randomly checked the labels of many Vaseline jars and did not find the clear warning to avoid use inside the body! Whaaaat? Please remember, even it is not labeled, petroleum jelly should ONLY be used outside of our bodies.
This list of 17 unique uses for Vaseline is incredible. I never thought of many of these! And this list of 20 Vaseline uses repeats some expect, but who knew it was good for pest control?
Why should nose Vaseline be avoided?
The reason that Vaseline has specifically been recommended for external use is that it can only melt or dissolve when it is in contact with fats and oils. Our skin has oil glands, so it will break down and dissolve the Vaseline.
The lining of the nose, mouth, and lungs do not have oils; therefore, Vaseline stays intact and collects.
When you place Vaseline in the nose at night, small amounts of the Vaseline run down the back of the nose and throat. Normally, this is swallowed, and if small amounts are accidentally eaten, it is safe and non-toxic. If large amounts are swallowed, because it is so thick, there is the potential for choking; otherwise, it will probably only cause soft bowel movements.
It is common for all of us to inhale small amounts of nasal drainage into our lungs at night. If Vaseline is placed inside the nose, as it runs down the back of our nose and throat, it can be inhaled as well. This can be a huge problem for people who use Vaseline in the nose frequently.
Over many months, if Vaseline is inhaled repeatedly, it collects in the lungs and can cause life-threatening pneumonia, called a lipoid pneumonia. Because this pneumonia is rare, many people ignore the possible danger. Even physicians disagree about the risk of placing Vaseline in the nose.
What is lipoid pneumonia?
This type of pneumonia can be very hard to treat because it is not caused by bacteria but instead happens because fat particles collect in the lungs and cause a severe inflammation. Lipoid pneumonia is also called lipid (fat) pneumonia.
There are two types of lipoid pneumonia. Exogenous lipoid pneumonia occurs when the fat particles come from outside the body and get to the lungs from the nose or mouth. Aspiration occurs when you swallow a solid or a liquid “down the wrong pipe.” and it ends up in the lungs.
How do you diagnose this special type of pneumonia?
In some people, lipoid pneumonia causes no signs or symptoms. In others, it can cause a cough, chest pain or shortness of breath. These symptoms are similar to the ones caused by bacterial and viral pneumonia or other lung problems; therefore, it can be hard to diagnose if it is not thought about.
Most types of pneumonia are seen when physicians order chest X-rays; however, that x-ray is not enough to determine which type of pneumonia you have.
Other tests are usually needed to confirm the diagnosis and may include:
- Bronchoscopy (telescope in the lungs)
- CT scans (fancy xrays)
- Lung biopsy(which shows the fat particles)
Treatment options for chronic nose Vaseline complications
Treatment depends on the type and cause of lipoid pneumonia, as well as the severity of symptoms. With exogenous lipoid pneumonia, eliminating exposure to the fatty substance is often enough to improve symptoms.
When lipoid pneumonia is caused by petroleum jelly, generally the only treatment is to stop using the petroleum jelly. This assumes it is found early and the inflammation can be fixed by the body.
If the diagnosis is made later, physicians might recommend using strong anti-inflammatory medications, such as corticosteroids, to reduce inflammation caused by lipoid pneumonia. There have been patients who needed steroids for up to 6 months due to severe complications of nose vaseline!
Sometimes, breathing problems become so severe that oxygen and inhaled medications are also needed. In the most severe cases, physicians need to place telescopes into the lungs and use warm salt water to rinse out some of the collected inhaled vaseline.
**Avoid nose Vaseline complications with this alternative**
As an ENT physician, I fully understand that patients with chronic nosebleeds, sinus infections or allergies may need routine treatmentS. Nose vaseline has long been believed to be an excellent way to treat a dry nose, BUT NOW YOU KNOW BETTER!
To relieve nasal dryness without Vaseline products, you might consider using a vaporizer or humidifier at night. Or you might try my favorite nasal treatment: saline washes. I may or may not have proven my love of this treatment in my previous posts about salty saline secrets and tips for successful use of saline.
If you must use a lubricant, choose one that melts with water, not one that needs fats or oils to melt it.
By far and away, I recommend that my patients use a nasal saline gel instead of vaseline. Products such as the AYR gel and Naso gel allow you the benefits of a lubricating gel as well as the bonus of getting more saline in that nose!
Take home messages
- Of course, do not use vaseline inside of your nose!
- Whatever you gel you use in the nose, try to use only small amounts and avoid doing within an hour of going to bed.
- Many people are using “natural” recipes as alternatives. However, many of them have oil as a base and will risk the same potential lung problems if used regularly at night in the nose. Don’t’ do it.
Also, remember home care tips for relieving nosebleeds:
- Pinch the nose
- Lean head forward (not lift up chin)
- Use Afrin to help clamp blood vessels (but avoid overuse and Afrin addiction!)
- Do not blow out blood clots
- Pinch nose MUCH longer than you think you need to. Do not pinch and release repeatedly.
- If the nosebleeds are recurrent see your physician to find out the cause.
The bottom line is that parents (actually everyone) should make informed decisions when it comes to the health of their kids.
Children have shorter necks and drainage from the nose reaches the lungs more readily; therefore, small lungs may develop swelling that may lead to severe trouble breathing.
When there are many safer treatments, why would you need to repeatedly risk a life-threatening lung injury in your child?
As always, much love for supporting my work. I will be adding many more posts to highlight parenting and healthcare tips.
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I agree, even without considering the obvious dangers, putting petroleum jelly in the nostril just sounds so wrong!
I knew about the dangers of inhaling oils, but had forgotten, so thank you for this reminder!
I was quite surprised a few months ago (2019) when my doctor suggested Vaseline in the nose! I didn’t realize petroleum products were being recommended in healthcare!
Intuitively I knew it didn’t sound right, so when I used it I used a very tiny amount. I felt more comfortable using the non-petroleum jelly from Live Clean. Burts bees makes one, too. However, they are both oil based.
I’m reserving my use of any of those to severe dry winter conditions, which fortunately isn’t common here in Vancouver, but which we are experiencing right now.
In general, should I feel the need I will stick to liquid coconut oil, but still use the tiniest bit, just at the Outer end of the nostril, And not before lying down.
In my case I haven’t had luck with ceiling, and I’m not wild about the propylene glycol of OTC applications.
In general, I recommend avoiding all oil-based products. Using them infrequently is usually not a problem but many of my patients have recurrent nosebleeds and dry noses so they need moisturizing more often. In that case, saline-based products such as AYR gel may be a good option.
I am a 59 yo male who had a few nosebleeds in August 2019 (never had bled before). Had nose cauterized and, around 16 August, began using q-tips with Vaseline up both nostrils every evening AND early AM at waking…in pretty liberal doses. Started noticing around late November occasional occurrences of dyspnea when going to sleep (flat) that relieved when turning on my side. In past two weeks (January 4 to present), noticed more upper chest tightness and mild shortness, along with occasional dry cough. Needless to say, I have stopped Vaseline today and have GP appt for Feb. 12th. Hoping cessation of oils in nose will relieve symptoms (I had been an asthma patient until allergy shots seemed to cure that at age 27). Crazy…I seemed to eschew all common sense on this one!
Oh goodness I hope everything turns out okay. But lubicating your nose on a routine basis with material that dissolves is always the best option. Preventing nosebleeds is important you might consider finding some of the saline gel products to help you in the future.
Yikes! Glad I found this. Should I be worried if I used Vaseline a handful of times or would that have been too little to get that pneumonia? I had only just started lining my nose with vaseline and I think I only did it 5-10 times.
Most people who use Vaseline never have complications but I am concerned about people who often use and do not know the risks. Just would be a good idea to consider other options if your nasal symptoms recur and you need additional moisturizing with fewer potential risks.
Thank you for your very informative posts on saline and the dangers of vaseline use in the the nose! I have noticed there are some newer non-medicinal nasal sprays out there that contain some combination of saline, xylitol, and glycerin. Is there any concern about accidental aspiration of glycerin (similar to problems with inhaling vaseline)? Does glycerin accumulate in the lungs or becomes absorbed by the tissue?
There is a risk of aspirating (inhaling into the lungs) anything, but the volume is key. Small amounts of glycerin diluted with saline is very different than globs of vaseline. Yes, using any saline based product is better.
Thanks so much for the informative post Dr. B!
I am trying to find a safe product for my son who has frequent nose bleeds. Most saline gels seem to have preservatives/parabens that I don’t love the idea of using (including Ayr unfortunately)
My 5 year old is waiting to undergo dental surgery but the anaesthesiologist has deferred his surgery until we get his nosebleeds under control.
Any suggestions would greatly be appreciated by this nervous Mom.
I am so sorry to hear this. Unfortunately, nosebleeds are NOT a specific disease. The tips I share include temporary measures while the underlying problem is treated. Does your child have allergies? Has he been seen by ENT to make sure enlarged adenoid is not leading to nasal congestion? I also understand your desire to avoid preservatives but using them for a short period of time along with a regimen to control the cause of the bleeding is your best bet. Wishing you the best of care.
Hello my name is Debbie. I would just like to let you know where I’m at with all this. I have a deviated septum measuring 5cm. This was caused by a consultant an ent at that. He caused this by cauterisation twice. He then operated and placed a button in. The hole was to big to keep the button in place properly, by this time the deviation was getting bigger and i was still having nose bleeds everyday. He finally decided to send me to a top ent specialist at another hospital, by this time he sent me to late as the hole measured 2 and a half cms. All this time nose bleeds and loads of scabs forming. Anyway to cut the story short it now measures over 5cms, and nothing else can be done. This has been going on for over 4years and i was told by the ent specialist to use vaseline inside my nose and a saline solution to rince it out. I have never been told the dangers of vaseline until now, reading about it on your website.. please can you tell me if i have anything to worry about. I have to have a lubricant to stop the dryness sort of i use it 4 or more times a day for 4 year’s I’m still suffering nose bleeds with loads of crusting and real big scabs. In your opinion is there anything else that can be done. My nose has collapsed and i find it hard to breathe especially at night. I wake up fighting for my breath and i go dizzy a lot and get short of breath when doing thing’s. I’m now even more worried after reading about vaseline. Also what alternative to vaseline can i use safely. And am i right in been worried many many thanks Debbie
I am so sorry to hear about your difficult journey. You do not have too much to worry about concerning your past Vaseline usage but I would definitely change now. There are many lubricants that you can continue to use many times per day. I would suggest the saline gels. After you rinse your nose with saline you can apply the thick saline gel that also acts as a barrier. The heat of our bodies will melt whatever you insert which is why you need to reapply it. Good luck to you.