Though common and sometimes frightening, nosebleeds are rarely anything more than a nuisance. They are usually the result of minor irritations in the nasal passages, and most common in children younger than 10, or adults older than 50.
What Causes Nosebleeds?
When the membranes lining the inside of the nose dry out and become irritated, the blood vessels break, causing a nosebleed. These are more common in the winter months, when the air is cold and dry. Other factors that may contribute to nosebleeds include the use of blood thinners, colds and allergies, sinus infections, nose picking, blowing the nose too hard, frequent sneezing, overuse of nasal sprays, foreign objects in the nose, and trauma to the nose.
If nosebleeds are chronic or occur frequently, they may be the result of high blood pressure or other vascular diseases or, in rare cases, a serious medical condition like a tumor.
Most nosebleeds originate in the front of the nose and are characterized as anterior nosebleeds. These are easy to control and rarely pose a serious problem. Posterior nosebleeds are rare, but are sometimes much more serious. They originate from an artery in the back of the nose, and may require immediate hospitalization and treatment. These are most common in the elderly.
If you are experiencing a nosebleed, first and foremost, stay calm! Though your nosebleed may look serious, chances are there is much less blood than appearances would lead you to believe. Sit down and lean forward slightly while pinching your nostrils together using a thumb and index finger. Hold this position for at least five minutes, or until the bleeding has stopped.
Other strategies that can help control a nosebleed include using a decongestant spray like Afrin (oxymetazoline) or putting an icepack on the bridge of the nose.
Once the bleeding has stopped, refrain from blowing your nose afterwards. If the bleeding hasn’t stopped after 20 minutes or is the result of an injury to the face, seek medical attention.
There are a number of strategies that doctors can use to control nose bleeds. In addition to the ones already described, cautery and a number of specialized packings can be used. In rare cases, surgery or embolization may be necessary.
If you are prone to frequent nosebleeds, there are steps you can take to prevent them. Keep the nasal lining moist with a saline nasal spray or saline gel. Run a humidifier, especially if you live in a dry climate. Quit smoking; this causes dryness and irritation.
You may want to consult an otolaryngologist if recurring nosebleeds are a problem.