Sunday, May 18, 2008

High Altitude Snot

This blog should probably not be read over lunch.

The only thing lofty about this blog entry is the altitude I'm discussing. I was trying to find a bodily functions post I remember, by Sulako to prove that I wasn't digging into new ground, here, but as I was searching his blog I got distracted by gems like "How many ramp workers could I run through the props at a busy airport before a sniper takes me out?" and so I just laughed instead of searching. This post really is about snot, that stuff your nose creates out of ... what? I'm not sure that science can create something comparable in a test tube, without resorting to chemicals too toxic for nasal insertion. But for some reason while I'm flying (or even an airline passenger) at altitude, my snot malfunctions.

The air is drier at altitude, which probably creates the issue. I assume snot evolved as some kind of barrier to inhaling dust and viruses, or as a nasal moisturizer or something, as opposed to being an auxiliary food source for small children. But when I'm flying it seems to create small torture devices inside my nose. It dries out, but somehow dries out into little crusty pointed shapes that poke at the inside of my nose, or perhaps they are pulling on my nose hairs. This is exacerbated if I'm at sufficient altitude to need supplementary oxygen, and am thus wearing a nasal cannula, basically a tube attached to two drinking straws and stuffed partway up my nose, so as to dribble oxygen into my brain and leave me capable of thinking about more complex things than "I have to pee," "I have to pick my nose," and "Is this South Dakota or Wisconsin?"

Given oxygen, I can move on to thoughts like, "I could blog about this," and "maybe I can use nose moisturizer." The nose moisturizer isn't such a bad idea, really. I could protect the inside of my nose with Vaseline. That would at least prevent snot from pulling on my nose hairs and might prevent the inside of my nostrils from getting dry and bleeding. The only obstacle is that lining my nostrils with Vaseline is pretty much reverse nose picking: taking goopy stuff and putting it inside my nose with my finger. It works okay, though, as long as you don't use so much that you can't inhale through your nose.

26 comments:

Aviadisto said...

What about this bodily function post?

Aviatrix said...

It doesn't do me much good finding prior art in my own blog. I have to prove others do it, too.

Tracy said...

Not the most elegant subject, but a common problem faced by any long-distance flier.

A lot of the legs I fly are of the 12-hour variety. I have the same problems you describe. I found that a saline nasal spray helps tremendously. There's even a '4-way' version with some menthol or whatever in it that helps open up some of the clogged passages.

Much more palatable than shoving goo up there. Wouldn't clog up the cannula, either.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Put a small amount of Vicks on a Q-Tip and put it in your nose. The stuff works great at keeping the nose moist and helps you breathe.

Anonymous said...

My suggestion comes as half-ignorant and half-overly-cautious: Watch it with the vaseline if you're on O2. I just recently purchased a portable oxygen system and saw several reminders about how you don't want to mix pure oxygen with oils, whether ignition source is present or not.

James said...

Somewhat relatedly, the Advanced Mission Extender Device hit the blogs recently (I'll leave it to you to search for it).

AndyC said...

I'll second the tip on the saline nasal spray...

Kevin said...

I have one that works well for me. Get a Chap Stick (one withOUT mint!) and mark it in some way so you don't mix it with your lip one later.

Wind the chap stick out about 1.5cm and stick the thing up your nose. Wiggle it about a bit, and you'll find that you just moisturized your nose, without Q-tips and without Vaseline.

Under no circumstances should this be attempted with a Burt's Bees Mint lip salve tube. Don't ask me how I know this. :)

Kevin

Scott Johnson said...

I seem to remember, from my oxygen-purchasing days as an EMT, that medical oxygen and aviator's breathing oxygen differ only in that the aviation oxygen is desiccated to prevent moisture freezing in the lines. I cannot imagine the torture of breathing that stuff through a cannula. Don't they make humidifiers of the sort you see in hospitals, where the oxygen bubbles through water right before it's fed to the cannula?

dph said...

I have to use polysporin during the transition seasons (spring and fall) because something about temperature and humidity levels here in dry dry YYC sets me to get bleeding noses.

I find is helps to keep the dried snot production down as well.

david said...

scott: I did some research a few months ago (with COPA's help), and it turns out that all oxygens -- medical, welding, and aviation -- are interchangeable now, with no moisture (it used to be that the first two had some).

aviatrix: for me, it's the opposite. Life can be difficult on the ground with tree pollen, ragweed, etc., but flying at 10,000 ft is pure relief -- I don't even have to think about my nose (thought I might notice my lips and toes starting to tingle after an hour or two).

majroj said...

You can buy a humidifier for your oxy if it has a standard nipple outlet (oxygen from a nipple.....)but swigging loads of water will go a long way towards it without risking the water reservoir coming loose in an emergency. A few drops of water up the noz will work well also.
Dried cracked nose liner makes you much more prone to influenza, by the way. Beleive it...or not!
(Scott Johnson, remember Mentholatum chapstick and burn cases or bodiy retrievals?).

Anonymous said...

Please don't set your nose on fire -- check the petroleum based products vs. oxygen safety guidelines!

5400AirportRdSouth said...

I also have heard stories of the extreme incompatability of any form of petroleum product and pure O2. Spontaneously combustible is what I was told. I know we have to keep a seperate set of tools for working with the ABO cart as there are no-grease signs all over everything. I heard a story once about a military crew member who sustained serious burns to his face after eating KFC and then donning the mask...I cant vouch for the source or verify this story, but a quick google of O2 and petroleum + burns gave me a few results that look like there might be some merit here, even slight. I'd ask anyone who is considering rubbing petroleum products on their mucous membranes and then applying O2, to do a little more research on this ( not being a smart-aleck, I am very curious as to whether its true or not as well ). Perhaps ABO is diluted enough at the end of the cannula to be safe? I know I've seen enough to convince me to never ever even consider using any sort of petroleum based product up my schnozz if I am on O2, the risk vs reward just doesnt add up!( ahhhhh - hydrated, soothing nose Vs. AAAAAH! my node id on tire! )

Richard said...

As one who rarely climbs above 4000 feet (SCotland only has a couple of mountains higher than 4000) my ignorance may be understandable, but when do commercial aviators (short of emergency) need Oxygen? I was under the impression that commercial aircraft (not military) were pressurised to about 6000 ft?

david said...

Richard:

Canada requires oxygen for the pilot above 10,000 ft, and the U.S. requires it above 12,000 ft, though both have exceptions where you can fly a bit higher for 30 minutes (say, to clear a mountain ridge).

Remember that commercial != airliner. A Piper Super Cub flying a hunter to a lodge for hire will be commercially registered with a commercially-licensed pilot. Most piston singles and twins aren't pressurized (though there are a few high-end exceptions).

Aviatrix said...

Good answer David, and that is the case that applies to me. I'll use oxygen cruising below 10,000 sometimes, especially at night. Eyesight and brain function, are both very sensitive to low oxygen.

Additionally, pilots in pressurized aircraft also must have oxygen available, and above certain altitudes (in Canada, at least) when one pilot leaves the controls, the other one is required to put on the oxygen mask until she returns. When travelling with small co-pilots, always put on your own mask before assisting your co-pilot.

Aviatrix said...

Also, I adore my readers. I feared this post was going to drop with a clink into the depths of the blogosphere, met only by some snickering. It's so much better to discover, with all of your help, that this is a common situation, that there are lots of solutions, and that I should be careful not to set my nose on fire.

Anoynmous said...

Oils can spontaneously burst into flame in the presence of pure high-pressure or liquid oxygen. Other organic substances -- rubber, leather, cotton undergarments -- will do the same. If the oxygen going into your nose poses a hazard in the presence of petroleum jelly, it poses about as much danger in the presence of the nose itself!

Warnings against using oils or greases with oxygen equipment are usually overzealous misinterpretations of the true warnings against using oils or greases in oxygen equipment.

janra said...

Yes, it's high pressure oxygen that will spontaneously combust with oils. Hence the dire warnings to never ever lubricate the threads of your oxygen bottle regulator... if you do that, you have a bomb. Period.

At atmospheric pressure, if there is a fire then pure oxygen will make it burn more intensely, but it won't spontaneously ignite due to the oxygen.

Jake's Dad said...

May I suggest a Vicks Inhaler? Looks like a Chapstick tube but has a Camphor/Menthol 'chunk' inside a plastic tube with vent holes. It allows you to sniff the vapours without resorting to sticking anything into your nose. It sure made a difference for me.

Anonymous said...

I've heard those are addictive.

Phil said...

Also, U.S. commercial airline pilots are required to wear the O2 mask when solo in the flight deck (not sure if that's at a specific altitude or what). And as an FA, whenever they're solo, I have to go in there with them. I will never forget the first time I turned around from closing the flight deck door and the pilot turned around in his Marty McFly/Darth Vader from Planet Vulcan O2 mask and I almost exploded in panic. Oh, life on a plane.

Phil said...

And about the nose thing... I just lean into the lav, dip my fingers in the water, and shove 'em up my nose. It's not potable water, but then, it's not like I'm drinking it.

Anonymous said...

I am on O2 while working in Aspen, CO for a few months. Amazing what a little O2 can do for the headaches and general awful feeling I get from Altitude.
Being on an O2 concentrator with a canulla in such a dry climate is tough on my nose as well. I did a quick google to see what other people had to say. Was glad to come across your blog!
Simple nasal sprays seem to dry out too quickly to be of much good for me.
I also found this very (seemingly) helpful suggestion on another website that I plan on trying this evening and thought I would pass it along here:

Oxygen can make your nose and mouth dry. If dryness is a problem, use a water-soluble lubricating jelly, such as K-Y Jelly® on your lips and nose. Do not get the lubricating jelly in the cannula or mask.

I am hoping something as simple as this will be of some great help!

Anonymous said...

James again from Aspen.
I neglected to mention that I am also using the water bottle attachment to my 02 concentrator, that does help, but since I am using the 02 all night long when I am sleeping, even with the attachment, my nose still gets very very dry in this climate.