Staph infection in nose: symptoms, causes and treatments

staph infection in the nose
Medically reviewed by Dr. Ola Tarabzuni

Key Takeaways

  1. Staphylococcus aureus can lead to nasal staph infections when the skin is damaged. Damage to the skin on the nose provides an entry point for these bacteria to cause infection, potentially resulting in symptoms like redness, swelling, boils, crusting, and fever.
  2. Various factors can contribute to nasal staph infections, including skin damage due to nose picking, excessive blowing or rubbing, and plucking nasal hairs. Poor personal hygiene, exposure to contaminated environments, compromised immune systems, and preexisting skin conditions can also increase the risk of infection.
  3. Nasal staph infections can lead to severe complications, such as facial cellulitis, cavernous sinus thrombosis, endocarditis, pneumonia, sepsis, and toxic shock syndrome, particularly if the infection enters the bloodstream or brain. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial to prevent complications, and individuals with weakened immune systems should seek urgent medical care.

Overview

Staphylococcus aureus, commonly found on the skin and within the nose, can lead to a nasal staph infection if the skin’s integrity is compromised. When an injury occurs to the skin on a person’s nose, it provides an entry point for Staphylococcus aureus bacteria to cause an infection. If you experience boils, redness, or swelling, and crusting inside the nose, it can be a staph infection. This blog will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment of such infections, as well as potential complications, for a better understanding of your symptoms.

What is a staph infection in the nose?

The S. aureus bacteria primarily causes staph infections in the nose. Approximately 20-80% of people carry S. aureus within their nasal passages, and most of the time, these bacteria remain harmless. However, if the skin on the nose sustains damage, these bacteria can infiltrate the wound, leading to an infection. The extent of skin damage determines the severity of the staph infection. Minor damage typically results in a mild to moderate infection, while more significant damage can trigger a severe or life-threatening infection.

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How do you know if you have a staph infection in your nose?

Individuals with a nasal staph infection may experience the following symptoms:

  • Redness and swelling of the nose
  • Boils inside one or both nostrils
  • Crusting around the nostrils
  • Facial swelling
  • Fever
  • Pain

How did I get a staph infection in my nose?

Various factors can contribute to nasal staph infection. Some main causes are explained as follows: 

1. Skin Damage

Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium commonly found on the skin and within the nasal passages of many individuals. Usually, these bacteria do not cause any harm. However, if the skin on the nose is damaged, it can provide an entry point for these bacteria to enter and cause an infection. Skin damage is a primary cause of nasal staph infections.

2. Nose Picking

One of the common causes of nasal staph infections is nose picking. When someone picks their nose with dirty fingers or sharp objects, they can introduce S. aureus bacteria into the nostrils. This can lead to skin irritation and damage, providing a suitable environment for infection.

3. Excessive Blowing or Rubbing the Nose

Frequent and forceful blowing or rubbing of the nose can also contribute to skin irritation and injury. This continuous friction and pressure on the skin can break its protective barrier, allowing S. aureus to enter and initiate an infection.

4. Plucking or Tweezing Nasal Hairs

Removing nasal hairs by plucking or tweezing can be another cause of nasal staph infections. These procedures can lead to tiny cuts or abrasions within the nasal passages, making it easier for bacteria to penetrate the skin and cause infection.

5. Personal Hygiene

Poor personal hygiene practices can increase the risk of a nasal staph infection. Failing to keep the hands and nasal passages clean can facilitate the transfer of S. aureus bacteria from contaminated surfaces or objects to the nose. Touching the nose with unwashed hands can introduce bacteria and cause infection.

6. Environmental Factors

Environmental factors also play a role in nasal staph infections. Exposure to contaminated objects, surfaces, or materials can introduce S. aureus into the nasal passages. These contaminants might include shared items, dirty towels, or unclean environments.

7. Compromised Immune System

Individuals with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to nasal staph infections. Conditions like autoimmune diseases or those undergoing chemotherapy, as well as organ transplant recipients, are at higher risk. A compromised immune system may not effectively control the growth of S. aureus, making infection more likely.

8. Preexisting Skin Conditions

Preexisting skin conditions or diseases that affect the nasal area can also increase the risk of nasal staph infections. Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis can disrupt the skin’s natural protective barrier, making it easier for bacteria to invade and cause an infection.

9. Inadequate Wound Care

If a person has an open wound or cut on or around the nose and does not properly clean and care for it, this can provide an entry point for S. aureus bacteria. Poor wound care can lead to infection, often traced back to negligence in treating an initial injury.

Understanding these underlying causes can help individuals take preventive measures to reduce their risk of nasal staph infections. Maintaining good hygiene practices, avoiding actions that can damage the skin, and seeking medical attention when necessary are key strategies to minimize the risk of such infections.

How do you treat a staph infection in the nose?

Treatment for a nasal staph infection depends on its severity. Some infections may resolve independently, while others may require medical intervention. For minor infections, home remedies may be effective. These may involve applying a clean, warm, damp cloth to the affected areas to alleviate sores and crusting. It’s essential to wash the cloth thoroughly to prevent bacterial spread.

In cases where pus-filled boils develop inside the nostrils, medical treatment is necessary. Your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics or topical antimicrobial medications like cephalexin and mupirocin.

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What are the complications from staph in the nose?

Staph infection can cause major complications if the bacteria enters the bloodstream or brain. Following are some of the main complications:

1. Facial Cellulitis

Facial cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects the deeper layers of the skin. Without timely treatment, this condition can become life-threatening. Symptoms may include tenderness and pain in the face, skin redness, a fever, chills, lockjaw, and loss of appetite.

2. Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis (CST)

It is a rare but severe complication where a blood clot forms in the cavernous sinuses, hollow spaces between the brain and the eye sockets. Cavernous sinus thrombosis can develop when an infection from the face or skull spreads to these sinuses. Symptoms of CST may include a fever, a severe headache, swelling around the eyes, weakness of the eye muscles leading to drooping eyelids or double vision, and severe eye pain.

3. Endocarditis

Endocarditis refers to an infection that spreads to the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves. Symptoms of endocarditis include fever, chills, fatigue, aching muscles and joints, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes blood in the urine.

4. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition affecting one or both lungs, typically resulting from an infection. In pneumonia, the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs fill with fluid or pus, making breathing difficult. Common symptoms of pneumonia include rapid or shallow breathing, breathlessness, chest pain aggravated by breathing or coughing, a rapid heartbeat, fever, chills, a general feeling of being unwell, and loss of appetite.

5. Sepsis

Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition where the body’s immune system overreacts to an infection, leading to a toxic accumulation of chemicals in the blood. Symptoms of sepsis encompass rapid breathing, an increased heart rate, fever, chills, confusion or disorientation, and other signs of systemic distress.

6. Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)

It is a rare and severe condition caused by staph bacteria releasing harmful toxins into the bloodstream affecting 0.80-3.4 in 100,000 in the US. Symptoms of TSS can emerge suddenly and progress rapidly, including fever, flu-like symptoms (headache, body aches, sore throat), nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a widespread skin rash resembling sunburn, a reddening of the lips, tongue, and eye-whites, difficulty breathing, fainting, and confusion.

7. Other Potential Complications

While the aforementioned complications are the most notable, it’s essential to recognize that a nasal staph infection can also lead to other localized or systemic issues, particularly if left untreated or if the infection spreads to other parts of the body. Therefore, vigilance and immediate medical attention are crucial to prevent further complications.

Therefore, it is important to understand these complications and the significance of early diagnosis and appropriate treatment to prevent complications associated with nasal staph infections.

Don’t ignore your staph infection.
Staph infection can cause lethal complications.

See a doctor

If a staph infection is severe, persistent, spreading, accompanied by skin rashes, fever, breathing difficulties, or irregular heart rate, see a doctor without further delay. Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as the elderly, those with autoimmune diseases, chemotherapy recipients, or organ transplant recipients, should seek immediate medical treatment to reduce the risk of complications.

Conclusion

Although the bacteria is commonly found on the skin and doesn’t cause any harm, however, once it is allowed to enter the body, it can cause life-threatening infections. Therefore, it is essential to get checked if you have a wound or injury anywhere on the body or nose and start antibiotic treatment to reduce the chances of complications. Recognizing symptoms, seeking appropriate treatment, and maintaining good hygiene practices are crucial in managing these infections and preventing complications.

FAQs about staph infection in nose

How severe is staph infection in the nose?

Staph infection in the nose is quite severe due to its contagious nature and chances of spreading to other body parts. Common infections it causes in the nose include nasal folliculitis and nasal furunculosis.

Can a staph infection in the nose spread to the brain?

A staph infection in the nose can spread to the brain in rare cases and is called staph meningitis. It can cause the death of the patient even after taking antibiotics as it affects the most sensitive part of the body, and out of people who survive, there is a very low chance of normal brain functioning as it can cause permanent brain damage.

Is staph in the nose contagious?

Staph infection in the nose can spread via skin-to-skin contact, coughing or sneezing, or using shared personal care items like toothbrushes, washcloths, or razors. There is a specific duration of the infection during which the infection remains contagious, and there are higher chances of spreading the infection. Its better to minimize the contact points during the contagious period of the infection.


Your Doctors Online uses high-quality and trustworthy sources to ensure content accuracy and reliability. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions and medical associations to provide up-to-date and evidence-based information to the users.

  • Casewell, M. W. “The nose: an underestimated source of Staphylococcus aureus causing wound infection.” journal of Hospital infection 40 (1998): S3-S11.
  • Wertheim, Heiman FL, et al. “Nose picking and nasal carriage of Staphylococcus aureus.” Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology 27.8 (2006): 863-867.
  • Dutta, Ritaban, et al. “Identification of Staphylococcus aureus infections in hospital environment: electronic nose based approach.” Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical 109.2 (2005): 355-362.
  • Wertheim, Heiman FL, et al. “The role of nasal carriage in Staphylococcus aureus infections.” The Lancet infectious diseases 5.12 (2005): 751-762.
  • McFarlan, A. M. “Pathogenic staphylococci in the nose.” British Medical Journal 2.4061 (1938): 939.

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