Dried Nasal Mucus, Hard Mucus in the Nose and Rhinoliths (Stones)

What is nasal mucus?

The nasal cavity is lined with a thin lining known as the epithelium that has specialized cells which produce and secrete mucus. This nasal epithelium is not significantly different from epithelium lining the rest of the respiratory tract. Mucus is constantly produces to :

  • trap dust particles and microbes
  • moisturize the nasal linings
  • assist with the sense of smell

Mucus in the nasal cavity usually drains into the back of the throat where it unconsciously swallowed in small amounts. Tiny hair-like projections known as cilia also help push the mucus towards the back of the throat. The larger nasal hairs that are visible in the nose are often coated with the nasal mucus. This also helps trapping dust and microbes from the incoming air.

Dried Nasal Mucus

Nasal mucus is a semi-liquid discharge. It is thick (viscous) but still sufficiently fluid to spread out in the nasal cavity and drain into the back of the throat. However, not all nasal mucus drains this efficiently. Sometimes the nasal mucus dries up becoming more of a soft solid mass. This dried nasal mucus is sometimes referred to commonly as ‘boogers’ or ‘crusties’. It is at times visible when it adheres to the nasal hairs close to the opening of the nose (nasal vestibule). This dried nasal mucus can be uncomfortable as the solid masses slightly obstruct the flow of air through the nasal cavity. It often compels a person to remove it manually with the use of a finger – ‘nose picking’.

What causes dried nasal mucus?

Dried nasal mucus is not an uncommon phenomenon. It occurs on a daily basis both for physiological and environmental reasons.

Flowing air has a drying effect. Since air is constantly moving in an out of the nasal cavity, it will inadvertently dry some of the nasal mucus. This is further exacerbated if the air in the environment is very dry, the mucus secretion is excessive or thicker than normal, and if the flow of air through the nasal cavity is faster than is usually the case. Furthermore the mucus traps particles in the air and these particles will also contribute to thickening and drying of the nasal mucus.

These conditions may arise with :

  • Dry climates.
  • Dusty environment – sand, organic and inorganic dusts.
  • Air conditioned areas.
  • Rapid breathing although a person may more often breathe through the mouth in these instances.
  • Dehydration.
  • Runny nose – although the mucus is thinner, it is secreted in excess allowing some to be dried up when drainage is inadequate.
  • Overuse of certain types of nasal sprays that reduces mucus production and secretion.

When there is injury to the nasal lining, usually from nose picking, it may lead to bleeding which gives rise to crusts of bloody nasal mucus.

Hard Nasal Mucus

Dried nasal mucus is largely solidified but still somewhat soft in most cases. However, should it dry up excessively or have collected with large quantities of airborne particles, it tends to form a hard mass. Ar times it can be extremely hard with jagged edges. These harder masses of nasal mucus can injure the nasal lining and lead to bleeding. The blood adheres to the mucus and solidifies. Hard bloody nasal mucus may then be passed out from the nasal cavity when blowing the nose or when picking the nose. Dried pus and the action of bacterial enzymes may also contribute to hard nasal mucus.

What causes hard nasal mucus?

The causes of hard nasal mucus is largely the same as dried nasal mucus but it is usually exacerbated. This includes :

  • Extremely dry climates
  • Very dusty environments
  • Cold rooms and refrigerated storage areas
  • Sudden change in environments like moving from a hot humid country to a cold dry region
  • Nasal infections (infectious rhinitis)
  • Sinus infections (sinusitis)

Rhinoliths

Rhinoliths are stones (calculi) that form in the nasal cavity. It is not just dried nasal mucus or hard nasal mucus. Calcium, magnesium and phosphate salts deposit around a nidus like a blood clot. It gradually grows into an irregularly shaped sphere with projections. Rhinoliths tend to occur on one side only (unilateral) and is solitary. Initially it leads to profuse nasal discharge, sometimes with blood in the discharge, but when it becomes large enough it can cause nasal obstruction. A rhinolith that is left untreated can cause perforation in the nasal septum or sometimes even palate. It can also lead to granuloma formation.

Causes of Rhinoliths

Rhinoliths develop when different salts accumulate around a nidus – any particle that acts as the core which salts can be deposited upon. The stone grows gradually over long periods of time before it becomes symptomatic or leads to complications. The nidus for the development of a rhinolith may be :

  • Blood clot
  • Dried pus
  • Dust particles
  • Cotton wool balls
  • Other small foreign bodies
  • crowebobby

    Strange there’s no information on how to get rid of this encrusted mucus other than by “picking” it, which obviously irritates and can injure the inside of the nose.

  • tanks

    I know…I clicked on it to find answers and got lead down a yellow brick road instead.

  • Hi Crowebobby and Tanks. That was not the focus of this article because dried nasal mucus is just a symptom. Treating a symptom is not the answer. The root cause needs to be treated so look at the treatment options for the specific cause. If there is no underlying disease then you may want to look at using a saline nasal spray frequently throughout the day. This will minimize drying of the nasal mucus.

  • Tony Harvey

    Thanks for the useful information. I am a life long nose picker and have a (repaired, 10 years ago) septal perforation. Much more recently at (RNTNEH, London) hospital request I twice daily irrigate my nose with weak saline/bicarb soda solution. At first they gave me 3 antibiotic/disinfectant creams which stopped me picking it almost completely. But I finised the courses (6 weeks total) and went back to picking it. So now I just do the twice daily irrigation (sniffing the liquid up each nostril, and right to the back, 3 times), this greatly reduces my picking and makes it managable/sustainable (no bleeding). I think almost everyone picks their nose a BIT, excess mucous production that dries partly the result of our very polluted environment in towns and cities. You just have to get the big lumps out sometimes, just don’t go too deep in, rinse your fingers before and after, keep your nails very short and do the nasal irrigation twice daily, especially before picking/blowing which loosens it up so it comes out much more easily. Then it all becomes sustainable and manageable.

  • Glenda R Huntoon

    I have been fighting horrible sinus issues for weeks maybe months now. I have been on medications and a sinus flush for about a week or more. I now feel like the back of my throat at the back of my sinuses is raw and the mucus in my throat feels like scabs. The doctor has said I do not have an infection. Just severe mucus build up. I now have phantom smoke smells constantly. I really can’t tell if I am getting better or worse.

  • Hi Glenda. If it is your sinuses and there is no infection then the ongoing sinusitis could be related to allergies and so on. SInce you have been on various medication to date, it is time to have your problem reassessed. Depending on the cause you may need a procedure like a sinus washout. However, this needsto be decided after you are assessed by an ENT specialist (otorhinolaryngologist). Ask your doctor for a referral to an ENT for further evaluation.

  • Deb Law

    Hello,
    One thing I do to clean nose, put water in bowl and place face into water (like you are in a pool) blow out air from your nose a few times and let the water slowly go into the nose. The water will normally go into the nose slowly by itself.Do this a few times and it does clean my nose naturally.

  • I just ordered me some saline nasal spray, but I’ve been having problems with my sinuses for years. Ever since I was a child, the doc told me that I had sinus issues and in my teens had MRIs to show I had calcifications in there. I’ve had allergies all of my life and use a spray for that, but it doesn’t give me much relief on the dryness.

    Now, my nasal passages are so dry and I literally have to use tweezers to clean it. 😮 Srsly, it won’t come out because it is like glue and I’m not going to pick it to get it out!! It seems to be the easiest way to use the tweezers to clear it out, but I’m afraid that I’m hurting my nasal passages with them. I don’t know what else to do because this has been going on for years now and I’m tired of it.

    I sure hope that the saline solution works because I’ve been using Flonase once a day, the allergy medication I was talking about, to give me some relief and moisture in there. I feel so dry, but it is open and I can breathe. It just feels like I have something blocking it down in there…like those Rhinoliths that were shown or something is in there. o.O I hope that they are NOT in there, but need it assessed and NEED them removed if they are!!
    Thanks for this info and going to get that scope run on my nasal passages. 🙂

  • Hi Deb. This is similar to using a neti pot to flush out your nasal passages. It is a widely recommended practise for flushing out nasal congestion and hydrating the nasal passages if a saline nasal spray does not help. Thank you for sharing.

  • Hi Karen. Hope you found some relief with a saline nasal spray. It is a widely recommended practise to ensure good nasal health. Flushing out your nasal passages with a neti pot is another practise that some professionals recommend. Hopefully these measures do help. The nasal lining is very delicate and tweezers can injure the area. Speak to an ENT specialist (otorhinolaryngologist) about this drying and other measures you can take to counteract it.