Cured, Salted Pork Up Your Nose, Therapeutically

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by Stephen Drew, Improbable Research

A new medical study recommends a method called “nasal packing with strips of cured pork” as an effective way to treat “uncontrollable” nosebleeds: 

Nasal Packing With Strips of Cured Pork as Treatment for Uncontrollable Epistaxis in a Patient with Glanzmann Thrombasthenia,” Ian Humphreys, Sonal Saraiya, Walter Belenky and James Dworkin, Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology, vol. 120, no. 11, November 2011, pp. 732-36. (Thanks to James H. Morrissey for bringing this to our attention.)

The authors, at Detroit Medical Center in Michigan, treated a girl who has a rare hereditary disorder that brings prolonged bleeding. They pack the essential details into two sentences:

Cured salted pork crafted as a nasal tampon and packed within the nasal vaults successfully stopped nasal hemorrhage promptly, effectively, and without sequelae…. To our knowledge, this represents the first description of nasal packing with strips of cured pork for treatment of life-threatening hemorrhage in a patient with Glanzmann thrombasthenia.

They acknowledge a long, occasional tradition of using pork to treat general epitaxis. Epitaxis is the dignified term for nosebleed. The technique fell into disuse, they speculate, because:

packing with salt pork was fraught with bacterial and parasitic complications. Accordingly, as newer synthetic hemostatic agents and surgical techniques evolved, the use of packing with salt pork diminished.

In 1976, Dr. Jan Weisberg of Great Lakes, Illinois wrote a letter to a medical journal, bragging that he, together with a doctor Strother and a Dr. Newton, had been “privileged” to treat a man “for epistaxis secondary to Rendu-OslerWeber disease”, an inherited problem in which blood vessels
develop abnormally.

Rendu-Osler-Weber Disease—Is Embolization Beneficial?” Jan J. Weisberg, Archives of Otolaryngology, vol. 102, June 1976, p. 385. For their patient, the period of hospitalization was ten days and the patient was discharged with salt pork packing still in his nose

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In 1954, the question arose in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

“Salt Pork for Control of Epistaxis,” Philip J. Bayon, Journal of the American Medical
Association, vol. 155, no. 14, 1954, pp. 1294-5. Dr. Bayon wrote:

To the Editor: Several local physicians contend that salt pork is the material of choice for the control of epistaxis. Has salt pork for such purpose ever been advocated by outstanding
otolaryngologists; and, if so, is it still advocated by them?

—Philip J. Bayon, M.D., Natchez, Miss

Answer.—Although the use of salt pork for the control of epistaxis has long been advocated, it has never been selected as a material of choice by the majority of otolaryngologists.

In 1953, Dr. Henry Beinfield in Brooklyn, New York, published a treatise:

General Principles in Treatment of Nasal Hemorrhage: Emphasis on Management of
Postnasal Hemorrhage,” Henry H. Beinfield, Archives of Otolaryngology, vol. 57, January 1953, pp. 51-9. Dr. Beinfield, at Polhemus Clinic and Long Island College Hospital, Brooklyn, New York. explains:

Salt pork placed in the nose and allowed to remain there for about five days hasbeen used, but the method is rather old-fashioned.

In 1940, Dr. A.J. Cone of the Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis, praised the method in a paper:

Use of Salt Pork in Cases of Hemorrhage,” A.J. Cone, Archives of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, vol. 32, no. 5, November 1940, pp. 941-6.

In Dr. Cone’s experience: it has not been uncommon in the St. Louis Children’s Hospital service to have a child request that salt pork be inserted in his nose with the first sign of a nosebleed…. Wedgesof salt pork have saved a great deal of time and energy when used in controlling nasal hemorrhage, as seen in cases of leukemia, hemophilia… hypertension… measles or typhoid fever and during the third stage of labor; the relief of anxiety of the patient and all concerned was particularly gratifying.

You're doin' it wrong! (Image credit: Flickr user evilsciencechick)

Way back in 1927, Dr. Lee Hurd of New York published a big thumbs-up:

Use of Salt Pork to Control Hemorrhage,” Lee M. Hurd, New York, Archives of Otolaryngology, vol. 4, November 1927, p. 447. Dr. Hurd enthused:

It is hard to say just what the action of the pork is, since several factors are present, namely, pressure, salt, tissue juices and fat…. Usually I do not use any outside dressing to hold the pork in place, as it will slip out in a few hours and there is no more bleeding. However, I have had it remain in the nose as long as three days and be as clean when removed as it was when introduced.

This article is republished with permission from the March-April 2012 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift!

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I think you're on the right track. From Discover Magazine:

It was thought that salt from the pork draws water to the nasal tissues, making them swell up and squeeze close the broken blood vessels. The doctors in this study add that the salt pork may contain proteins that help blood coagulate, though the exact mechanism of how it stops bleeding is still unknown.
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