Why Does Getting Water Up Your Nose Hurt So Much

[♪ INTRO] So have you ever done a cannonball into a swimming pool or a pond and accidentally, like, shot water all up into your brain through your nose? Neauuhh, not a fan! And yet neti pots, those teapot-looking things that people use to squirt water into their noses when they’re feeling stuffy, they’re, like, soothing and relatively painless. Turns out, the difference has to do with the conditions inside your nasal cavities. See, the inside of your nose, as you may have noticed, is full of nerve endings. And not to get too up-close-and-personal here, but it’s also pretty warm up there, and kind of salty, with a salt concentration of about 0.9%. When you snort up fresh, cold swimming pool water, it’s a shock to your system because it’s just so different from the natural environment inside your nose. Cold temperature can even make you feel like you’re having a brain freeze, probably because it’s making the blood vessels inside of your nose constrict. And since the fresh water doesn’t match up with your internal salt concentration, there’s an uncomfortable feeling as they try to equalize and the water flows into your cells. Meanwhile, your nasal membranes respond to the irritation by secreting a bunch of mucus, which is why your nose immediately starts running. Neti pots, which flush out your sinuses to remove allergens and thin out mucus, get around this by using warm, salty water that matches your internal environment. But even though neti pots and accidental cannonball snorts feel totally different, they can both put you at risk for deadly infections. Though it’s very rare, a snootful of pond water or an improperly cleaned neti pot just might expose you to brain-eating amoebas called Naegleria fowleri. Again, this is really rare; there are only three or four cases in the U.S. each year. But it’s a water-dwelling parasite that, if snorted up your nose, can get into your brain and start destroying tissue. I’m not saying you’ve got to give up cannonballs, but maybe just hold your nose, do the thing that everybody does. You’ll get around the pain and the risk of a brain-eating infection at the same time! Thanks for asking, and thanks especially to all of our patrons on Patreon who keep these answers coming. If you are interested in learning more about the ways in which your nose responds to things, you can check out our video on why your nose gets all runny when it gets cold outside. [♪ OUTRO]