Medical Causes of a Burning Sensation in the Nose

Medically Reviewed By Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
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A burning sensation in the nose can result from a damaged or diseased sensory nerve. The most common cause of a nose burning sensation is an allergy, such as hay fever. This sensation may also be due to tobacco smoke, air pollution, or a side effect of a nasal spray medication. Other causes of nose burning sensations include different types of burns, such as a severe sunburn, a skin tissue burn following exposure to extreme heat, or a burn from the inhalation or ingestion of a dangerous chemical.

Keep reading to learn more about what could be causing a burning sensation in your nose. This article also discusses what to do about it.

Allergies

a woman is looking at her nose in the bathroom mirror
Danil Nevsky/Stocksy United

One cause of a burning sensation in the nose is an allergic reaction. Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, can affect people in certain seasons or cause symptoms all year round. Some people may even have allergies to items in their homes, such as dust mites.

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology, allergic rhinitis is the body’s way of responding to particles that may not cause the same reaction in other people.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:

  • itchy eyes, mouth, nose, and skin
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • sneezing
  • tiredness

Learn about treatments for allergies here.

Common cold

The common cold can cause nasal congestion, which can lead to a burning sensation in the nose and sinuses.

Other symptoms of a common cold include:

Most people recover from a common cold in 7–10 days.

Learn about seven treatments for the common cold here.

Overuse of nasal sprays

Nasal decongestant sprays can help unblock a stuffy nose. However, it is possible to overdose on these products. Doctors call this “rhinitis medicamentosa.”

Overuse of nasal sprays can lead to the following symptoms:

Nasal polyps

People with asthma or chronic sinusitis may develop nasal polyps, which are small, painless, noncancerous growths that can appear in the nose or sinus.

Other symptoms of nasal polyps include:

  • a runny or blocked nose
  • headaches
  • a feeling of pressure in the sinuses
  • postnasal drip
  • itchy eyes
  • sneezing

Learn more about treating nasal polyps here.

COVID-19

Some people with COVID-19 develop nasal congestion, though this is not a common symptom.

A 2020 study found that 4.1% of a group of people with COVID-19 had nasal congestion and that 2.1% had a runny nose. Both of these symptoms could cause a burning sensation in the nose.

Other symptoms of COVID-19 include:

Learn about how hospitals might treat COVID-19 here.

Pollution

People who live in areas with high pollution levels have a higher likelihood of developing rhinitis and nasal irritation. These conditions can cause a burning sensation in the nose.

The number of people with rhinitis is increasing, and experts believe that pollution may be playing a part. Researchers call for further studies to confirm this.

Learn about how pollution can harm your health here.

Tobacco smoke

Tobacco products can have a variety of negative effects on the sinuses, which can result in a burning sensation in the nose. These negative effects include:

  • changing and destroying the hairs that line the nasal passage, allowing more mucus to build up
  • exposing the nasal passage to infection, from the hair changes and the smoke itself
  • causing inflammation in the sinuses

Get eight tips for quitting smoking here.

Fire smoke

Inhaling smoke from a fire can also cause a burning sensation in the nose. Smoke is a mixture of small particles of whatever is burning and gases. If you inhale smoke, you should contact a doctor, as it can cause serious complications.

People who have inhaled smoke may also notice:

  • a burning sensation in the eyes
  • a runny nose
  • a cough
  • phlegm
  • wheezing
  • difficulty breathing

Skin burns

If flames have entered your nose, you may have sustained a skin burn inside your nasal passage. This can happen to people who, for example, get too close to a scented candle.

Minor burns go away on their own. However, you should contact your doctor if the burn is more severe, is causing pain, or is causing you concern.

Industrial chemicals

Certain industrial chemicals, such as ammonia, can cause a variety of symptoms — including a burning sensation in the nose — if you inhale them. People may come into contact with products such as ammonia by using cleaning products.

Contact with or inhalation of ammonia can cause burning of the nose, throat, and respiratory tract. It can also cause skin and eye irritation.

Mislabeled products

One older 2007 case report involves a person who mistakenly applied a product containing nitric acid to their nose, thinking it was a nasal decongestant.

The labeling on the box was very similar, and they did not notice until they began experiencing the following symptoms:

  • burning in the nose
  • pain
  • a blocked nose
  • tearing

Always carefully read the packaging of the product you wish to use before applying it.

Drug inhalation or snorting

Inhaling or snorting powdered substances, including tobacco and illegal drugs, can cause some health problems that involve the nose. These issues may lead to a burning sensation in the nose.

The risks associated with snorting drugs include:

Nasal cancer

There are many other less severe conditions that are more likely to be the cause of a burning sensation in the nose than cancer.

Symptoms of nasal cancer include:

  • persistent blockages on one side of your nose
  • nosebleeds
  • a loss of sense of smell
  • bloody mucus from the nose
  • postnasal drip
  • a bulging eye
  • vision loss
  • loose teeth
  • pain or pressure in the ears
  • a growth on the face

Stroke

Feeling a burning sensation in your nose does not mean that you are having a stroke. The symptoms of a stroke include:

Diagnosing nose burning sensations

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed healthcare practitioner will ask you several questions related to the burning sensation in your nose. These may include the following:

  • When did you first notice the nose burning sensation?
  • Do you smoke tobacco products?
  • Is the nose burning sensation accompanied by tingling, burning, or numbness in other areas of the body?
  • How long does the nose burning sensation last?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Have you recently sustained a head, neck, or back injury?
  • Have you recently had contact with any dangerous chemicals?

When to contact a doctor

A nose burning sensation due to a burn or serious head, neck, or back injury requires immediate medical attention. 

Seek immediate medical care by calling 911 for the following serious symptoms:

If your nose burning sensation is persistent or causing you concern, seek prompt medical care.

Summary

Causes of a burning sensation in the nose include allergies, colds, smoke, polyps, and the inhalation of potentially harmful substances.

In much rarer cases, it may be a symptom of a serious condition such as cancer.

Contact a doctor to determine the underlying cause of a burning sensation in your nose. Take a list of other symptoms or circumstances you may have been experiencing to your appointment. This can help the doctor make a diagnosis.

You will then be able to start the appropriate treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 28
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.