What Causes a Burning Sensation in Your Nose?

Medically reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on February 14, 2018Written by Stephanie Watson on February 14, 2018

Is this cause for concern?

Oftentimes, a burning sensation in your nostrils is the result of irritation in your nasal passages. Depending on the time of year, this could be due to dryness in the air or allergic rhinitis. Infections, chemical irritants, and medications like nasal spray can also irritate the sensitive lining of your nose.

Read on to learn what might be causing the burning sensation in your nose and how to treat it.

1. Weather changes

During the winter months, the air outside is much drier than it is in the summertime. Indoor heating systems add to the problem by pouring out hot, dry air.

The dryness in the air makes moisture in your body quickly evaporate. That’s why your hands and lips crack, and your mouth feels parched during the cold months.

Winter air can also leech moisture from the mucous membranes inside your nose, leaving your nose dry and irritated. Raw nasal passages are why some people get frequent nosebleeds during the winter.

What you can do

One way to add moisture to the air is to install a humidifier in your house, or turn on a cool-mist vaporizer — especially when you sleep. Just be sure to keep the overall humidity in your house set below 50 percent. Any higher and you can encourage the growth of mold, which can also irritate your sensitive nose.

Use an over-the-counter (OTC) hydrating nasal spray to replenish parched nasal passages. And when you go outside, cover your nose with a scarf to prevent any remaining moisture in your nose from drying up.

2. Allergic rhinitis

Better known as hay fever, allergic rhinitis is the itchy, irritated nose, sneezing, and stuffiness you get after being exposed to an allergy trigger.

When mold, dust, or pet dander makes its way into your nose, your body releases chemicals like histamine, which sets off the allergic reaction.

This reaction irritates your nasal passages and causes symptoms like:

  • itchy nose, mouth, eyes, throat, or skin
  • sneezing
  • cough
  • swollen eyelids

Between 40 to 60 million Americans have allergic rhinitis. In some people, it only pops up seasonally. For others, it’s a year-round affliction.

What you can do

One of the most effective ways to deal with allergies is to avoid exposure to your triggers.

To do this:

  • Keep your windows closed with the air conditioner turned on during peak allergy season. If you have to garden or mow the lawn, wear a mask to keep pollen out of your nose.
  • Wash your bedding in hot water and vacuum your rugs and upholstery. Put a dust-mite-proof cover on your bed to keep these tiny bugs away.
  • Keep pets out of your bedroom. Wash your hands after you touch them —especially before touching your nose.

Ask your doctor about trying one or more of these nasal allergy treatments:

  • Nasal antihistamine spray can help counter the effects of the allergic reaction.
  • Nasal decongestant and steroid sprays help bring down swelling in your nose.
  • Nasal saline spray or irrigation (neti pot) can remove any dried-up crust from inside your nose.

3. Nasal infection

A sinus infection (sinusitis) can feel a lot like a cold. Both conditions have symptoms like a stuffy nose, headache, and runny nose in common. But unlike a cold, which is caused by a virus, bacteria cause a sinus infection.

When you have a sinus infection, mucus becomes stuck in the air-filled spaces behind your nose, forehead, and cheeks. Bacteria can grow in the trapped mucus, causing an infection.

You’ll feel the pain and pressure of a sinus infection in the bridge of your nose, as well as behind your cheeks and forehead.

Other symptoms include:

  • green discharge from your nose
  • postnasal drip
  • stuffed nose
  • headache
  • fever
  • sore throat
  • coughing
  • fatigue
  • bad breath

What you can do

If you’ve had symptoms of a sinus infection and they’ve lasted for more than a week, see your doctor. You can take antibiotics to kill the bacteria that caused the infection, but you should only use them if your doctor confirms that you do have a bacterial infection. Antibiotics won’t work on viral illnesses like the common cold.

Nasal decongestant, antihistamine, and steroid sprays can help shrink swollen nasal passages. You can also use a saline wash daily to rinse out any crust that’s formed inside your nostrils.

4. Medications

Medicines like antihistamines and decongestants can treat the causes of a burning nose. But if they’re overused, these drugs can dry out your nose too much and worsen this symptom.

What you can do

Follow the package directions or ask for your doctor’s advice when using antihistamines and decongestants. Only take them for as long as needed to control your sinus symptoms. Don’t take nasal decongestants for more than three days at a time. Using them for too long can cause rebound congestion.

5. Smoke and other irritants

Because you breathe in through your nose and mouth, these organs are most vulnerable to injury from toxins in the air. Chemicals and pollution can contribute to rhinitis, sinusitis, and other conditions that cause a burning nose.

Some of the toxins that can dry out and irritate your nasal passages include:

  • tobacco smoke
  • industrial chemicals like formaldehyde
  • chemicals found in home cleaning products such as windshield wiper fluid, bleach, and window and glass cleaners
  • gases like chlorine, hydrogen chloride, or ammonia
  • dust

What you can do

To prevent nasal irritation from chemical products, avoid being around them. If you have to work with or use these products at home, do so in a well-ventilated area with the windows or doors open. Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth.

6. Could it be a sign of stroke?

Q:

Is it true that nasal burning can be a sign of stroke?

A:

Certain symptoms can indicate a particular subtype of stroke. These symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, seizure, and changes in alertness. However, nasal burning is not a known, predictive sign of stroke. There is a popular myth that a person can smell burnt toast before having a stroke, but this is not medically substantiated. 

Elaine K. Luo, MDAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.

When to see your doctor

You can usually manage your nasal symptoms at home. But if your symptoms don’t go away after a week or more, make an appointment to see your doctor.

See your doctor right away for more serious symptoms like these:

  • high fever
  • trouble breathing
  • tightness of the throat
  • hives
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • fast heartbeat
  • blood in your nasal discharge
CMS Id: 143319