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Nasal Infections

Nasal infections cause pain and inflammation in the nostrils and the skin surrounding the nose. Occasionally, a nasal infection may also spread to the skin around the mouth, causing painful crusting and scabbing.

The good news is that nasal infections are relatively easy to treat and relieve, and an antibiotic ointment is usually all that's required to resolve the issue. However, a serious infection may require medical attention if left untreated.

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Advice for Nasal Infections

What is a nasal infection?

Nasal infections are usually caused by bacteria entering injured tissue on the nose, or the skin surrounding the nostrils. When suffering from a nasal infection, your nose is likely to feel sore, or painful to the touch. You may also develop pimples, crusting, and scabbing inside your nostrils.

Typically, these infections result from Staphylococcus bacteria entering broken tissue and are easily treated through the use of topical antibiotics.

What’s the difference between a nasal infection and a sinus infection?

While the two are commonly confused, nasal infections are not the same as sinus infections.

Sinus infections (such as acute sinusitis) are caused by an infection of the sinuses — the small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead. Sinus infection symptoms include nasal congestion, excess mucus production (a runny nose), and flu-like symptoms.

A nasal infection, on the other hand, is the result of an infection of the skin in or around the nose. Occasionally, the infection may also spread to the mouth.

Nasal infection symptoms

The term ‘nasal infection’ is actually used to describe a group of different conditions, each one with its own set of symptoms.

Two of the most common nasal infections are nasal vestibulitis and impetigo — both of which stem from a bacterial infection of the skin.

Generally, a nasal infection will cause the following symptoms:

  • Inflammation of the nose and nostrils
  • Pimples on or inside the nose
  • An achy, sore nose that is painful to touch
  • A crusty, scabby layer of skin that forms in and around the nose

A nose infection will rarely cause a blocked, runny, stuffy nose, as these are more common sinusitis symptoms associated with an acute sinus infection.

Types of nasal infection

Nasal vestibulitis

Nasal vestibulitis is an infection of the skin surrounding the nostrils (known as the vestibule of the nose). It can be caused by a number of things, such as an infection (usually by Staphylococcal bacteria), allergies, or exposure to irritants.

Typically, the infection will arise from a small injury in the nasal vestibule. These injuries may be caused by nasal hair plucking, picking your nose, excessive nose blowing, or having your

nose pierced.

Nasal vestibulitis symptoms include:

  • Inflammation and puffiness both inside and outside the nostril
  • A small, raised bump resembling a pimple inside the nostril
  • Tiny bumps around the hair follicles inside the nostril (folliculitis)
  • Scabbing or crusting in or around the nostril
  • Aching and sensitivity in the nose
  • Abscesses or boils inside the nose (nasal furuncles)


Impetigo is a bacterial skin infection that typically affects the face, particularly around the mouth and nose.

It is characterised by the formation of small, fluid-filled blisters that eventually burst, leaving behind red, crusted sores. These sores are highly contagious and can spread to other areas of the body if not properly treated.

Impetigo is most common in children, but can also occur in adults. Like nasal vestibulitis, an impetigo nose skin infection is caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus pyogenes and can be treated with antibiotics.

Impetigo symptoms include:

  • Blisters filled with fluid, which can break open and crust over
  • Red, swollen, and itchy skin
  • Sores on the face, particularly around the nose and mouth
  • Yellow or honey-coloured crusts on the skin
  • Mild fever and swollen lymph nodes in some cases

Causes of nasal infection

The most common cause of a nasal infection is the Staphylococcus bacteria. Staphylococcus aureus is a common cause of nasal vestibulitis, but other types of bacteria can also trigger the condition.

Risk factors for nasal infection include:

  • Trauma or irritation to the nasal vestibule, such as from blowing the nose too hard, picking the nose, or using nasal sprays excessively
  • Poor personal hygiene, such as not washing hands regularly or not keeping cuts and scrapes clean
  • Exposure to irritants, such as tobacco smoke, pollution, or certain types of chemicals
  • Having a pre-existing skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Crowded living conditions, such as in daycare centres or schools, which can increase the likelihood of spreading the infection
  • Being an athlete, who may be at a higher risk due to skin-to-skin contact during sports and increased sweating

Nasal infection diagnosis

Both nasal vestibulitis and impetigo are relatively easy to diagnose, and usually all that will be required is a physical examination from your GP.

During a physical examination, the doctor will examine the inside of the nostrils for signs of redness, swelling, and crusting. They may also take a sample of any discharge or crusting for examination under a microscope to identify the presence of bacteria or other microorganisms.

In some cases, a culture test may be performed to identify the specific type of bacteria causing the infection.

Nasal infection treatments

If you’re wondering how to get rid of a nasal infection, fortunately, most mild nose infections are treatable with a topical antibiotic cream such as Bactroban or Naseptin. Simply apply the cream to the affected area as prescribed and the infection should clear up.

However, if boils begin to form, this may be a sign of a severe infection. Typically, this will require both an oral antibiotic and a topical antibiotic, so it’s recommended to seek the advice of your GP immediately in such cases.

To help drain larger boils, your doctor may also recommend applying a hot compress to the affected area three times a day for 15 to 20 minutes. In rare cases, a large boil may need to be surgically drained by a healthcare professional.

Nasal infection complications

While nasal infections are unpleasant to deal with, they’re usually nothing to worry about. However, in rare cases, the infection may lead to complications and require medical intervention.


Cellulitis occurs when an infection spreads beneath the skin to other areas. Signs of nasal cellulitis may include redness, pain, and swelling at the tip of the nose, extending to the cheeks.

Other symptoms of cellulitis may include:

  • Skin that feels warm to the touch
  • Dimpling of the skin
  • Red spots or blisters
  • Fever

If you suspect you have cellulitis, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately, as the infection can spread to other areas of the body, causing serious health complications.

Nasal polyps

Nasal polyps are non-cancerous growths that develop on the lining of the sinuses or nose. They can cause symptoms such as:

  • Nasal congestion
  • Difficulty breathing through the nose
  • Loss of smell
  • A runny or stuffy nose
  • Facial pain or pressure

Nasal polyps are usually caused by inflammation in the nasal passages due to allergies or other conditions such as asthma. You’re more likely to develop nasal polyps through chronic sinusitis, but they may also be triggered by nasal vestibulitis.

Nasal polyps are typically treated with corticosteroid sprays, but surgery may be required in more severe cases.

Cavernous sinus thrombosis

Cavernous sinus thrombosis is a condition in which a blood clot forms in the cavernous sinus, a space located at the base of the brain behind the eyes.

You should seek treatment immediately if you have had a nasal infection and begin to experience symptoms such as:

  • Severe headache
  • Severe facial pain, particularly around the eyes
  • Fever
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Eye swelling
  • Confusion

Treatment typically begins with intravenous antibiotics. In some cases, surgery may also be necessary to drain any boils that have formed.

How to prevent nasal infections

Most of us will contract a nose infection at one point or another, but there are steps you can take to lower your risk of infection. These include:

  • Practising good hygiene — washing your hands regularly, especially before touching your face, can help prevent the spread of bacteria. Also, avoid picking your nose, as this can cause small cuts or scrapes that can easily become infected
  • Avoiding exposure to irritants — stay away from environmental irritants, such as smoke, pollution, and certain chemicals, as they can dry out and irritate the skin inside the nostrils
  • Using a humidifier — keeping the air in your home or office moist can help keep the skin inside your nostrils from drying out and becoming irritated
  • Avoiding using nasal sprays excessively — overusing nasal sprays can dry out the inside of your nose and increase the risk of infection
  • Keeping your nasal passages clear — blow your nose gently, and clean your nose with a saline solution to remove any excess mucus and debris
  • Avoiding sharing personal items — refrain from sharing personal items, such as towels, that may have come into contact with infectious bacteria
  • Avoiding smoking — smoking can irritate the nasal passages, making it more susceptible to infection
  • Keeping your immune system healthy — eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep to keep your immune system strong

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