Nosebleeds, also known as epistaxis, occur when blood vessels located in your nose become injured or damaged. The nose contains a thin membrane that holds many blood vessels close to the surface. When one of those blood vessels breaks, it can be scary to see bleeding from the nose. Nosebleeds are common and are usually not a sign of something more serious. 

What causes nosebleeds?

There are many reasons for nosebleeds. Some of the more common ones include:

  • trauma or injury
  • dry air
  • congestion
  • infection
  • allergies
  • smoke
  • nose picking 
  • blowing your nose with force
  • certain medications
  • pregnancy

More serious causes of nosebleeds and underlying conditions

While nosebleeds are common, sometimes they may be associated with more serious conditions. Those include bleeding disorders such as von Willebrand disease, platelet disorders, hemophilia, some cancers, and liver disease. 

How do you stop a nosebleed?

To stop bleeding from the nose, take the following steps:

  • Sit and bend your head forward. When you have a nosebleed, instinct tells us we should tilt the head backward to help stop the bleeding. However, this causes the blood to flow down your throat. By sitting with your head tilted forward, the blood can flow through your nose. 
  • Pinch the soft part of your nose. Applying pressure at the soft tip of your nose will help to stop the bleeding.
  • Maintain pressure for 10 minutes. While this may seem like a long time, keeping constant pressure on your nose for 10 minutes will help the blood clot and stop the nosebleed.

How are nosebleeds treated?

To help stop the bleeding, nosebleeds can be treated with over-the-counter options such as nasal sprays or allergy medications. Your doctor may also recommend prescription medications. Talk to your doctor to see what is right for you.

Can you prevent nosebleeds?

There are several things you can do to prevent nosebleeds. 

  • During the cold winter months, it can be helpful to use a cool mist humidifier in your home to keep the air from becoming too dry. Using a cool mist humidifier while sleeping can also be helpful.
  • Avoid picking your nose. This can damage the membrane. Instead, use a saline spray or rinse to clean your nose. 
  • Keep your nose lubricated by applying a small amount of a product such as Ayr gel, Vaseline, or bacitracin to the inside of your nose.
  • Use a saline spray several times a day, especially during winter.
  • Avoid smoke.

When to seek medical attention for nosebleeds

In most cases, nosebleeds will stop on their own. There are some instances when medical attention may be necessary. Contact your doctor or an urgent care center if:

  • bleeding does not stop after 10 minutes of applying pressure
  • you feel faint or lightheaded
  • you swallow a lot of blood
  • there is bruising or bleeding on other parts of your body
  • you are taking medications known as anticoagulants, or blood thinners
  • there is trauma or injury to the face along with the nosebleed
  • you have a foreign object in your nose
  • you experience nosebleeds often 

If you experience any of these symptoms, please seek medical assistance. Healthcare providers have tools to help stop the bleeding and can be sure there are no other complications.

For more tips on living healthy, visit our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog. 

Caitlin Montcrieff, CPNP, CPHON

Caitlin Montcrieff, MSN, RN, CPNP

Caitlin Montcrieff, MSN, RN, CPNP, is a pediatric nurse practitioner at Hasbro Children’s Hospital who specializes in hematology. She is associate director of the Hemostasis and Thrombosis Center (HTC) of Rhode Island Hospital and manager of pediatric hematology/oncology advanced practice providers.