Snorting Protein Powder (Hint: Don’t Do It)

People really snort protein powder? Probably not often, but there are discussions about it on the internet.

Most people who have snorted it probably did it as a “one-time” thing just for a unique experience – whereas others may have done it as an attempt to gain notoriety, attention, or “clout” on social media.

In most cases, snorting protein powder (assuming not done regularly) is probably not a big deal.

However, those who snort protein powder – even as a “one-time” joke might end up experiencing some side effects or adverse reactions to this behavior.

Snorting Protein Powder (Side Effects & Adverse Reactions)

Included below is a list of some side effects and/or adverse reactions that might occur as a result of snorting protein powder.

not recommended

Common reactions

Coughing: It is common for individuals to cough more frequently after snorting any form of powder – including protein powder. Cough is a reflex that helps protect your airway and lungs against irritants (e.g. the protein you snorted).

Nasal blockage: Snorting protein powder will typically cause a transient nasal blockage. However, it’s possible that the powder interacting with moist mucosal membranes might clump up and harden – making it difficult to expel such that a professional nasal rinse is needed.

Inflammation (sinusitis): Inflammation can occur throughout the entire nasopharynx after snorting protein powder – but will likely be most prominent within the nasal cavity (sinuses). Degree of inflammation may depend upon the amount of protein snorted and specific ingredients.

Bloody nose (epistaxis): This is a very common reaction to snorting any form of powder. The particulates can irritate nasal mucosa and cause bleeding.

Burning and/or watery eyes: Burning sensations behind the eyes and/or watery eyes could be due to an allergic reaction to the powder – or just a complication of powder-induced irritation. If laryngopharyngeal reflux occurs – this could dry the eyes out and cause burning.

Dry nose: Some individuals may feel as though their nose is especially dried out after snorting protein powder. This is due to the fact that mucosal linings have been disturbed, damaged, and/or inflamed.

Sneezing: This is an innate defense mechanism that your body utilizes to prevent infection and improve breathing. When something enters your nose (e.g. protein powder, dust, pollen) – signals are sent by nasal cilia to part of your brain called the sneeze center. The sneeze center facilitates signals to generate a “sneeze” – and particles are cleared from the nasal and bronchial passages.

Mucus (booger) discoloration: The presence of protein powder within your nasal cavity might alter the texture, coloration, or general appearance of nasal mucus/boogers.

Burning sensation in the nose: It’s generally uncomfortable to snort protein powder – and likely will cause a burning or stinging sensation within the nose.

Throat tickling sensation: Powder may enter your throat after snorting your nose and generate a tickling or itchy sensation.

Other possible reactions

Infections: Snorting powder won’t directly cause an infection, but it might indirectly cause infection by interfering with normative mucociliary clearance mechanisms.  As a result, pathogens that your body normally expels from the nasopharynx and lungs end up proliferating to induce infectious disease.

Laryngopharyngeal reflux: This is a bit different from conventional gastroesophageal reflux in that the “reflux” episodes occur in the larynx/nasopharynx. As a result, someone might experience “globus sensation” (lump in throat) and postnasal drip, along with upper esophageal burning sensations.

Postnasal drip: Increased mucus production from the posterior portion of the nose could trigger postnasal drip.

Increased mucus production: Some individuals may experience significantly increased mucus production such as would occur in the case of rhinitis or sinusitis. This increased mucus production is likely a defense mechanism intended to expel the protein particles from the nose.

Choking: After snorting protein powder, someone may experience a combination of coughing with brief choking episodes. Obviously if the choking is substantial – emergency medical care should be sought.

Difficulty breathing: This could be due to a variety of reasons: (1) presence of protein powder in the nose; (2) intranasal blockage; (3) allergic response; (4) inflammation; etc.

Sore throat: A combination of inflammation and particulates may irritate the throat and cause some degree of soreness.

Eustachian tube blockage & ear pain: The eustachian tubes could become transiently blocked by the protein powder than was snorted – and ear pain might occur as well. This is because particulates could circulate throughout the entire nasopharynx before elimination.

Nasal membrane damage: Snorting protein powder, especially if acidic, could inflict some degree of damage to the nasal membranes.

Allergic reaction: Humans did not evolve to digest and assimilate protein powder via the nose – so administration of protein powder through the nose could trigger an allergic reaction in some cases.

Immune alterations: Because protein powder is entering the nasal cavity (rather than the GI tract), the immune system may perceive this as an invading pathogen and create antibodies – which leads to “sensitization” and altered immune expression/function.

Lung problems: It’s possible that someone might develop pulmonary complications from snorting protein powder (e.g. infection).

Hoarse voice & esophagitis: Would be more common from “dry scooping” protein powder than snorting – but could theoretically occur after snorting it as well.

Granulomatous reactions: It is known that snorting powdered substances can trigger granulomatous reactions in some individuals. This is a distinctive pattern of chronic inflammation characterized by nodular aggregation of inflammatory cells (mostly activated macrophages) which are transformed into epithelium-like cells.

Sleep problems (?): Due to difficulty breathing as a result of intranasal blockages. Essentially this can trigger transient sleep apnea or upper airway resistance syndrome until the powder is fully cleared and nasal inflammation subsides.

Note: This is not list of all possible complications. If you have any questions about snorting protein powder you should talk to a medical doctor.

What are the most serious risks of snorting protein powder?

The biggest risks associated with snorting protein powder (in my opinion) are discussed below. Keep in mind that I’ve yet to find any case reports of death from snorting whey – but it is a possibility (despite being very unlikely).

Death. This could occur via multiple mechanisms: (1) allergy & hypersensitivity reactions (e.g. anaphylaxis); (2) airway blockage (such as powder accumulating in the nose and throat area to impair breathing in anatomically at-risk persons). Anaphylaxis and loss of consciousness would be most common in someone with a severe allergy to the specific type of protein, the concentration of protein administered, or a specific component within the protein powder.

Adult-onset food allergy. Non-ingestion exposures such as via inhalation of whey protein particles from snorting protein powder could be a modality by which select individuals develop “adult-onset” cow milk/dairy allergy. In other words, whey protein may become allergenic to certain individuals doing this. (Even unintentionally inhaling small amounts of protein particles during the mixing of protein powder has been suggested by allergists as a potential cause of adult-onset food allergy. Essentially the body begins perceiving the proteins as invaders within the nasal cavity and creates antibodies such that subsequent ingestions trigger immune response.)

Infection. Delicate mucosal membranes within the nasal cavities function to protect us from pathogenic invaders.  However, when there’s a significant blockage (such as could happen after snorting protein powder) infection might occur due to: (1) impaired mucociliary clearance mechanisms; (2) inflammation; (3) accumulation of pathogens. This could lead to a wicked bacterial infection within the nasopharynx or lungs.

Autoimmune reaction or altered immunity (?): Atypical administration of foods (e.g. non-ingestion exposures) such as via insufflation (intranasal administration) of protein powder – could trigger an autoimmune response or alter immunity for some individuals. This might induce adult-onset dairy allergy or increase susceptibility to other allergies or infections.

Reddit Questions (Snorting Protein Powder)

Below are posts on Reddit about snorting protein powder. This is likely a mix of genuine curiosity-fueled questioning and trolling – along with one sarcastic post about snorting protein powder.

  1. Can I snort protein powder? I hate the way it tastes. Will I get the benefits of it if I snort it through my nose? Will I have medical issues if I put it through my nose?

Response: There are no significant benefits associated with snorting protein powder and there may be significant adverse medical complications. For this reason, snorting protein powder is NOT recommended.

  1. If you snort protein powder, will you absorb the protein?

Response: If any manages to enter your GI tract following the snort – then you might absorb negligible amount. Select other ingredients may penetrate the blood-brain-barrier if they’re capable. That said, this is not an efficient way to get your protein.

  1. I was making my smoothie today and I accidentally snorted a little bit of protein powder. It wasn’t a full scoop, just a little bit. Currently it feels like it’s clogging up my nose. Am I gonna be ok?

Response: Most likely will be fine. If any serious symptoms occur – consult a medical doctor.

  1. Can I die from snorting protein powder? If it matters it is vegan protein powder and I do it once a day after workouts. (Poster was asked why they snort the protein powder… response: “I do also drink them, but once some spilled out of the shaking bottle and I thought what could happen, I tried and is a fun experience so I kept doing it.”)

Response: It may be possible to die from snorting protein powder, but this is extremely unlikely. Regularly snorting protein powder is NOT recommended and could be medically dangerous. It would be advised to stop this habit.

  1. Snorting protein powder goes straight to your brain giving it the nutrition to grow and reach its full potential. (In case you don’t understand sarcasm or lack the ability to detect it – this is sarcasm.)

Response: Jokes.

  1. Blow (cocaine) is cut with whey powder, is that pretty bad? Is there anything I can do with this sack besides get a new dealer? Random response: Nah it is like lactose – not bad for your nose.
  2. I snorted a line of it (whey protein powder) once for fun. It was in fact, not fun.

Response: Makes sense. There was a debate in the comments of a Reddit thread whether the protein from protein powder actually reaches the brain.

  • One reply: Powder reaches & attaches to nasal membranes; powder absorbed by membranes as mucus dissolves the powder; powder travels through veins until reaches blood-brain barrier; powder crosses blood-brain-barrier.
  • Second reply: Nasal administration may allow certain drugs and other molecules to bypass the blood-brain barrier via diffusion through the olfactory epithelium and perineural sheath or via retrograde axonal transport along olfactory and trigeminal nerves.

Note: Not all substances are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. The molecule needs to have the appropriate physico-chemical characteristics to get through the nose and epithelial defenses and bypass the BBB. Unlikely you’re going to see a brain full of protein powder.

Variables that affect outcomes (snorting protein)

Included below are some variables that may affect outcomes and side effects associated with snorting protein powder.

  1. Amount of protein powder snorted: How much protein powder was snorted. Snorting a little bit is less likely to cause significant reactions relative to snorting a lot.
  2. Number of snorts/inhales: The total number of protein powder snorts and number of inhales (without expelling the powder), the more likely the individual will have side effects.
  3. Depth of particulate penetration: How deep the protein powder reaches within the nasal cavity could influence the types of reactions that occur and their severities.
  4. Frequency of snorting protein powder: How often is the individual snorting protein powder? Frequently snorting protein powder might increase risk of sensitization and subsequent allergy response.
  5. Preexisting nasopharyngeal anatomy & function: Individualized structure of the sinuses, throat, eustachian tubes, and ear canals may influence responses to snorting protein powder. The general health and function of nasopharyngeal components may also influence susceptibility to side effects.
  6. Allergy susceptibility: Individuals with a history of allergies (or high susceptibility to allergy) may be more likely to react adversely to snorting protein powder than persons without a history of allergy.
  7. Protein powder specifics: The specific components (i.e. ingredients) within the protein powder that was snorted may influence side effects to some extent.
    • Protein type: Whey, wheat, pea, soy, etc. & concentration (e.g. 5 grams a snort). This matters particularly with respect to allergy development. For example, snorting whey might cause a cow milk allergy to develop – whereas snorting wheat would be more likely to provoke a wheat allergy (in susceptible persons).
    • Added ingredients: What are the added ingredients within the protein that was snorted? These may have specific effects depending on respective concentrations and respective pH levels.
    • Contaminants: Is the whey devoid of contaminants such as heavy metals? If it isn’t, some of these particulates might enter the brain (bypassing the blood-brain-barrier) and cause some minor damage.
    • pH (acidity vs. alkalinity): What is the pH of the protein powder snorted? Low pH means it is acidic and likely to cause burning sensations with possible lesions. Alkaline protein powder is less likely to inflict significant damage.
    • Texture & thickness: The texture and thickness of the protein powder after it is introduced to the nasal cavity might influence side effect susceptibility. For example, a protein powder that is “rough” in texture and thicker (clumps up) might inflict more damage within the nose via friction and blockage.
    • Bacteria (?): Regularly using protein powder in containers with “ungloved” hands may cause bacteria to proliferate within the powder. If protein powder is snorted in which pathogenic bacteria are present – this could cause infection.

Do people really snort protein powder?

Probably in rare cases. My guess is that most protein powder users have NEVER snorted protein powder.  There’s no benefit to doing this, it wastes protein powder, it’s uncomfortable, and may cause complications.

However, certain individuals with high “risk tolerance” may have: (1) contemplated snorting protein powder and/or (2) snorted protein powder – as a joke or for views, clicks, reactions, etc. – on social media platforms (e.g. Tik Tok).

Perhaps a very small percentage of individuals have snorted protein powder as some odd self-experiment (rather than for clout) – but I’d guess that most who’ve done it, did it for attention/clout.

Those who’ve snorted protein powder in the past probably didn’t have a pleasant experience – and probably would not do it again unless it got a significant amount of attention on social media (such that it earned money).

Some people just do dumb/random things – and there’s no major rhyme/reason behind it. I found a few videos on YouTube of people snorting protein powder and one genuine anecdote from a guy on Reddit who said he enjoys snorting a little bit of residue in addition to drinking the powder normally.

What to do if you’ve snorted protein powder…

Most people who snorted protein powder probably don’t do anything other than rinse their nose out after and are totally fine.  That said, not everyone who snorts protein powder has the same experience.

If you’re experiencing uncomfortable symptoms – it’s probably smart to consult a medical doctor for appropriate treatment.  If symptoms are indicative of an anaphylactic reaction – call 911 or seek emergency medical care.

  1. Check the protein powder ingredients: Certain components within protein powders might induce stronger symptoms than others. For example, if the powder contains large amounts of ascorbic acid – this could significantly amplify burning sensations, inflammation, and mucosal damage due to its high acidity.
  2. Consult an ENT (otolaryngologist): Discuss what you did and the symptoms you’re experiencing. If necessary they’ll perform a flexible laryngoscopy and examine your sinuses, throat, and eustachian tubes. In some cases a CT scan of the paranasal sinuses might also be recommended.
  3. Isotonic saline rinses (?): Because protein powder can cause intranasal blockage and possibly accumulation of bacteria. Purified isotonic saline nasal rinses may help flush out the protein that’s lodged in your sinus cavity.
  4. Neti pot (?): Clean/purified water in a neti pot may also help. Neti pots are containers designed to rinse debris and mucus from the nasal cavity. Many people find neti pots to be an effective way to clean the sinuses.
  5. Hydration: Maintaining adequate hydration will help reduce the odds of protein powder residue lining the upper esophagus and/or throat. Adequate hydration may also help keep the nasal cavity moist to some extent. Alkaline water may provide additional benefit in neutralizing acidic components of the protein powder (assuming it contains things like citric acid, etc.).
  6. Fluticasone (?): Probably not recommended for most cases because this stuff can dry out the nasal canals. However, in the event that the powder is completely cleared out but inflammation is lingering – this may help target some of the inflammation.

Have you ever snorted protein powder?

Although most people will probably laugh at this article like WTF – you’ve gotta consider that the competition is fierce for annual Darwin Awards.

And in seriousness, there are certain individuals who: (1) don’t understand the risks and/or (2) want to gain clout – and will end up snorting protein powder.

Obviously snorting protein should be generally safer than doing the Tide Pod challenge – but neither are recommended.

If you’ve ever snorted protein powder, feel free to share your experience in the comments section below. (I’m open to hearing both real experiences & satirical experiences.)

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