Nosebleeds occur when delicate blood vessels in the lining of the nose break and start to bleed. In rare instances, nosebleeds occur due to injury to larger blood vessels in the back of the nose.
Although nosebleeds can be a common occurrence, there are cases when the bleeding may require a visit to a doctor. Most people can stop nosebleeds at home, however.
Read on for tips on how to stop a nosebleed. We also cover when to see a doctor.
When treating a nosebleed, remain calm and do not panic. It may feel like a lot of blood, but a nosebleed is not usually a cause for concern.
To stop a nosebleed, follow these steps:
- Sit and lean slightly forward, allowing the blood to exit the nose and drip downward. Keep the head above the heart.
- Gently blow out any mucus from the nose.
- Pinch the soft portion of the nose, just below the harder cartilage, with the thumb and index finger. Continue holding the pressure for 5 minutes. Breathe through the mouth during this time.
- Let go of the nose after 5 minutes. If the bleeding has not stopped, hold for another 5 minutes and check again. Continue this process for up to 20 minutes.
- Apply a cloth-covered cold compress to the nose to reduce inflammation and the likelihood of the bleeding starting again.
After a person's nosebleed has subsided, they should avoid activities that could make it come back, such as picking or blowing the nose.
Children are prone to nosebleeds because they may pick their nose and damage the fragile tissue inside.
Steps that a parent or caregiver can follow when a child has a nosebleed include:
- Have the child sit and lean slightly forward, allowing the blood to exit the nose. A person can catch the blood with a dark towel so it is less visible, as some children may find the sight of blood distressing.
- Find the soft, fleshy portion of the nose just below the cartilage and pinch it closed. Some people use special nasal compression clips. The child may tolerate the clamp better than a person holding their nose. Clamps are available to purchase online.
- Use distraction techniques, such as setting a timer, reading a book aloud, watching a television show, or singing a song while holding pressure for 5 minutes. Release the pressure to see whether the nosebleed has stopped. If not, hold it for an additional 5 minutes.
A caregiver should seek medical treatment for the child if the nosebleed does not stop after 20 minutes.
If a person has chronic nosebleeds, they may require more significant treatment methods to reduce the bleeding.
Products a person can use to stop a nosebleed include:
- Nasal neo-synephrine: This nasal spray can shrink or tighten blood vessels in the nose, which may help stop a nosebleed. It is available in pharmacies and online.
- Calcium alginate: Calcium alginate is a compound in some over-the-counter treatments, such as BleedCease. People should follow the instructions on the packaging to stop the bleeding.
A person should always talk to their doctor about the safety of these approaches before trying them at home.
If a person cannot stop their nosebleed with at-home treatments, a variety of medical approaches can help. These include:
- Cauterization: A doctor can use a special device that applies heat to the bleeding vessels in the nose. The heat seals the vessels and stops the bleeding.
- Packing: Packing involves special gauze or a balloon-like device that puts pressure on the nose lining, thus stopping the bleeding.
- Silver nitrate: A chemical called silver nitrate can help seal the blood vessels and stop nasal bleeding.
- Intravenous medications: Sometimes, a doctor may give medications to reduce the chance that a person will bleed excessively. Examples include aminocaproic acid (Amicar) and tranexamic acid (Cyklokapron). Doctors tend to prescribe these to people with bleeding disorders.
- Topical hemostatic products: A doctor may apply products that aim to reduce or eliminate excessive bleeding.
In rare and severe cases, a person may need a blood transfusion or a procedure to destroy or suture the blood vessels in the nose that are bleeding.
One of the most common approaches a person may take to stop a nosebleed is trying to put something up the nose.
Although stuffing the nose with tissue or gauze may seem to be a good idea, this approach may worsen the nosebleed by further irritating the nasal tissues.
Also, when they remove the object, it can dislodge the clot that has formed, and the bleeding may start again.
Some people may also try to lean their head back to avoid letting the blood drain out of their nose. However, this can allow the blood to trickle down the back of their throat, which may eventually irritate the stomach. This can cause coughing or choking, particularly in children.
The blood that has trickled down into the stomach can make a person feel nauseated, and they may vomit.
Instead, it is best to sit up straight or lean forward for a little while pinching the nose.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the most common nosebleed causes are exposure to dry or cold air and nose picking.
Other potential nosebleed causes include:
- chronic cold or sinus problems
- cocaine use
- hemophilia or hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia
- injuries to the nose
- putting objects up the nose
- taking medications to thin the blood, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or clopidogrel (Plavix)
In some instances, a nosebleed can be a symptom of high blood pressure.
Since high blood pressure does not always cause other symptoms, it is important to check blood pressure regularly and see a doctor if a nosebleed continues for a long time.
If a nosebleed does not stop after about 20 minutes of home care, a person should seek medical attention. A nosebleed that continues for this long will likely not stop without medical treatment.
Other signs a person should seek medical treatment include:
- having a broken or suspected broken nose
- a nosebleed that occurs after a vehicle accident or fall
- looking pale, sweating, or feeling weak due to the blood loss
- bleeding from the mouth
About 10% of nosebleeds require medical intervention. Children and older adults are more likely to need to see a doctor.
If a person starts having frequent nosebleeds, it is best to see a doctor. Chronic nosebleeds can sometimes signal the presence of an underlying medical condition.
Nosebleeds can be concerning, but people can usually treat them at home. If a nosebleed does not stop after 20 minutes of home care, see a doctor.
People should also speak to a doctor if they experience several nosebleeds in a month, as this may be a sign of an underlying issue.