Nosebleeds

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First aid: Nosebleeds

Nosebleeds are common. Most often they are a nuisance and not a true medical problem. But they can be both.

Among children and young adults, nosebleeds usually originate from the septum, just inside the nose. The septum separates your nasal chambers.

In middle-aged and older adults, nosebleeds can begin from the septum, but they may also begin deeper in the nose's interior. This latter origin of nosebleed is much less common. It may be caused by hardened arteries or high blood pressure. These nosebleeds begin spontaneously and are often difficult to stop. They require a specialist's help.

To take care of a nosebleed:

  • Sit upright and lean forward. By remaining upright, you reduce blood pressure in the veins of your nose. This discourages further bleeding. Sitting forward will help you avoid swallowing blood, which can irritate your stomach.
  • Pinch your nose. Use your thumb and index finger to pinch your nostrils shut. Breathe through your mouth. Continue to pinch for five to 10 minutes. This maneuver sends pressure to the bleeding point on the nasal septum and often stops the flow of blood.
  • To prevent re-bleeding after bleeding has stopped, don't pick or blow your nose and don't bend down until several hours after the bleeding episode. Keep your head higher than the level of your heart.
  • If re-bleeding occurs, blow out forcefully to clear your nose of blood clots and spray both sides of your nose with a decongestant nasal spray containing oxymetazoline (Afrin, others). Pinch your nose in the technique described above and call your doctor.

Seek medical care immediately if:

  • The bleeding lasts for more than 20 minutes
  • The nosebleed follows an accident, a fall or an injury to your head, including a punch in the face that may have broken your nose

For frequent nosebleeds
If you experience frequent nosebleeds, make an appointment with your doctor. You may need a blood vessel cauterized. Cautery is a technique in which the blood vessel is burned with electric current, silver nitrate or a laser. Sometimes your doctor may pack your nose with special gauze or an inflatable latex balloon to put pressure on the blood vessel and stop the bleeding.

Also call your doctor if you are experiencing nasal bleeding and are taking blood thinners, such as aspirin or warfarin (Coumadin). Your doctor may advise adjusting your medication intake.

Using supplemental oxygen administered with a nasal tube (cannula) may increase your risk of nosebleeds. Apply a water-based lubricant to your nostrils and increase the humidity in your home to help relieve nasal bleeding.

Last Updated: 2009-12-11
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