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Nosebleeds

A nosebleed is loss of blood from the tissue lining the nose. Bleeding most commonly occurs in one nostril only. Nosebleeds are very common. Most nosebleeds occur because of minor irritations or colds. They can be frightening for some patients, but are rarely life threatening.

The nose contains many small blood vessels that bleed easily. Air moving through the nose can dry and irritate the membranes lining the inside of the nose, forming crusts. These crusts bleed when irritated by rubbing, picking, or blowing the nose.

The lining of the nose is more likely to become dry and irritated from low humidity, allergies, colds, or sinusitis. Thus, nosebleeds occur more frequently in the winter when viruses are common and heated indoor air dries out the nostrils. A deviated septum, foreign object in the nose, or other nasal blockage can also cause a nosebleed.

Most nosebleeds occur on the front of the nasal septum, the tissue that separates the two sides of the nose. The septum contains many fragile, easily damaged blood vessels. This type of nosebleed can be easy for a trained professional to stop. Less commonly, nosebleeds may occur higher on the septum or deeper in the nose. Such nosebleeds may be harder to control.

Occasionally, nosebleeds may indicate other disorders such as bleeding disorders or high blood pressure.

Blood thinners such as Coumadin, Plavix, or aspirin may cause or worsen nosebleeds.

Causes

  • Allergic rhinitis
  • An object stuck in the nose
  • Blowing the nose very hard
  • Chemical irritants
  • Direct injury to nose, including a broken nose
  • Nose picking
  • Overuse of decongestant nasal sprays
  • Repeated sneezing
  • Surgery on the face or nose
  • Taking large doses of aspirin or blood-thinning medicine
  • Upper respiratory infection
  • Very cold or very dry air

Repeated nosebleeds may be a symptom of another disease such as high blood pressure, allergies, a bleeding disorder, or a tumor of the nose or sinuses.

How to Stop a Nosebleed

  • Sit down and gently squeeze the soft portion of the nose between your thumb and finger (so that the nostrils are closed) for a full 10 minutes.
  • Lean forward to avoid swallowing the blood and breathe through your mouth.
  • Wait at least 10 minutes before checking if the bleeding has stopped.
  • Many nosebleeds can be controlled in this way if enough time is allowed for the bleeding to stop.

It may help to apply cold compresses or ice across the bridge of the nose. Do NOT pack the inside of the nose with gauze.

Lying down with a nosebleed is not recommended. You should avoid sniffing or blowing your nose for several hours after a nosebleed. If bleeding persists, a nasal spray decongestant (Afrin, NeoSynephrine) can sometimes be used to close off small vessels and control bleeding.

Additional Information

Learn more about nosebleeds.