Most nosebleeds begin in the lower part of the septum, the semi-rigid wall that separates the two nostrils of the nose. The septum contains blood vessels that can be broken by a blow to the nose or the edge of a sharp fingernail. This type of nosebleed comes from the front of the nose and begins with a flow of blood out one nostril when the patient is sitting or standing.
More rarely, a nosebleed can begin high and deep within the nose and flow down the back of the mouth and throat even if the patient is sitting or standing.
Additional Causes Of Nosebleeds:
- Allergies, infections, or dryness that cause itching and lead to picking of the nose.
- Vigorous nose blowing that ruptures superficial blood vessels in the elderly and in the young.
- Clotting disorders that run in families or are due to medications.
- Fractures of the nose or of the base of the skull that can cause bleeding and should be regarded seriously when the bleeding follows a head injury.
- Rarely, tumors (both malignant and nonmalignant) have to be considered, particularly in the older patient or in smokers.
Types Of Nosebleeds
Obviously, when the patient is lying down, even anterior (front of nasal cavity) nosebleeds may seem to flow posteriorly, especially if the patient is coughing or blowing his nose.
It is important to try to make the distinction since posterior (back of nasal cavity) nosebleeds are often more severe and almost always require a physician’s care. Posterior nosebleeds are more likely to occur in older people, persons with high blood pressure, and in cases of injury to the nose or face.
Anterior nosebleeds are common in dry climates or during the winter months when heated, dry indoor air dehydrates the nasal membranes. Dryness may result in crusting, cracking, and bleeding. This can be prevented if you place a bit of lubricating cream or ointment about the size of a pea on the end of your fingertip and then rub it inside the nose, especially on the middle portion of the nose (the septum). A water-based ointment is preferred over petroleum products when this is performed, as skin and mucus membrane irritation with some of the petroleum compounds can occur. Contact your physician for recommendations for appropriate nasal ointments.
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Treatment For Nosebleeds
The management for a sudden nosebleed is often misunderstood or misinterpreted by patients. A nosebleed is usually a scary experience and panic may overwhelm reason when bleeding occurs. It is important to remain as calm as possible, sitting in an upright chair rather than lying down. Bending forward is undesirable, as this increases blood flow to the nose and face. Leaning backward in the chair, with the sides of the nose pinched firmly between thumb and forefinger is the best way of controlling a nosebleed. Once the pinching has begun, do not let go of the nose for 15 minutes strictly measured by the clock. Rinsing the nose after this with cool water will help to constrict bleeding vessels and to clear up the nose to determine if bleeding is continuing. If it continues, your physician or care in the nearest emergency room should be sought.
When nosebleeds are less trouble but continue to be a minor nuisance problem, hygiene and a humidification maintenance program may be necessary. Many physicians suggest any of the following lubricating creams or ointments, such as saline gel. Up to three applications a day may be needed, but usually, every night at bedtime is enough. A saline nasal spray will also moisten dry nasal membranes.
If the nosebleeds persist, you should see your doctor. Using an endoscope, a tube with a light for seeing inside the nose, your physician may find a problem within the nose that can be fixed. He or she may recommend cauterization (sealing) of the blood vessel that is causing the trouble.
What About Rebleeding?
To prevent rebleeding after initial bleeding has stopped:
- Do not pick or blow nose.
- Do not strain or bend down to lift anything heavy.
- Keep head higher than the heart.
- Use a humidifier during dry winter months.
- Use a water-based ointment in your nose
If rebleeding occurs:
- Attempt to clear nose of all blood clots.
- Spray nose four times in the bleeding nostril(s) with a decongestant spray such as Afrin or Neo-Synephrine.
- Perform steps 1 and 2 shown in the “To stop an anterior nosebleed” box in this leaflet. Repeat these steps as necessary.
- Call your doctor if bleeding persists.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are nosebleeds a symptom of anything?
Nosebleeds can have a variety of causes, and can be a symptom of a number of conditions. Most commonly people have nose bleeds due to dryness or irritation in the nose that leads to a breakdown of the tissues, and the bleeding can further aggravated by health conditions, such as high blood pressure or coagulation problems that may be caused by medication or other health conditions. A deviated septum may present with nosebleed problems. Vascular conditions, and rarely tumors or growths may present with nose bleeds. A thorough exam by a skilled specialist can help determine the cause.
Why do nosebleeds happen for no reason?
Nose bleeds can seem to appear spontaneously, but are usually triggered by dryness and irritation in the nose, a leaky capillary, or an underlying health condition, such as high blood pressure or a bleeding disorder.
What are 3 common causes of nosebleeds?
The most common causes of nosebleeds are nasal dryness, nasal congestion, or nasal trauma.
Can dehydration cause nosebleeds?
Dehydration can lead to drying of the mucus membranes, and when this happens the membranes are more vulnerable to chapping and splitting and then bleeding. Therefore, nose bleeds can be aggravated by dehydration.
Jeffrey L. Cutler, M.D.
Dr. Jeffrey Cutler is board-certified with the American Board of Otolaryngology and received his medical degree at Tulane University Medical School in New Orleans. He performed his residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. In addition, he completed a 1 year fellowship in nasal and endoscopic sinus surgery. His area of expertise includes the medical and surgical treatment of complicated sinus and skull base diseases. Dr. Cutler has published many articles on office based nasal and sinus procedures - particularly on balloon sinus and Eustachian tube dilation When not at the office, he enjoys spending time outdoors with his family, skiing and cycling.