PEOPLE’S PHARMACY: Is it safe to put Vaseline in the nose?

Q: I get nosebleeds when the furnace runs a lot in the winter. I think it is the dry air.

My doctor recommended that I use Vaseline in my nose to keep it moistened.

I think I read in your column that you should not put too much Vaseline in your nose because it could irritate the lungs.

Is this really true?

A: We recently saw a suggestion in Consumer Reports (March 2010) that “a pea-sized dollop of petroleum jelly inside the nostrils” could prevent nosebleeds. Used rarely, this approach might not be dangerous.

We have heard from lung specialists that petroleum jelly can migrate from the nose to the lungs. As it builds up, it could cause an inflammatory condition called lipoid pneumonia.

If you look at the label of Vicks VapoRub, a product containing petrolatum, it states clearly “Do not use in nostrils.” A water-soluble moistener such as K-Y Jelly might be a better choice.

We heard from another reader: “Please reprint the article about not using Vaseline in the nose because it can cause pneumonia.

“That article may have saved my life, and others need to know.”

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist, and Teresa Graedon is an expert in medical anthropology and nutrition. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. 
E-mail them via their 
Web site: www.peoples
pharmacy.com. They can be reached at peoplespharmacy
@gmail.com.

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2 comments Add your comment

Michele Coogan

February 16th, 2010
8:15 pm

I read your article regarding the Vaseline on the nose, possibly causing problems in some people. My daughter uses it every night on her nose and does not get nose bleeds but now we are concerned it may be building up in her system. We have tried humidifiers but they have made her room too moist, with the possibility of increasing the mold in her room. You suggested jVaseline can be used rarely. What is your definition of rarely and what other options are there beside saline (does not work) and KY Jelly? Someone suggested vegetable shortening.

[...] Editor’s note: Vaseline may help nose bleeds, but can carry serious health risks. [...]