Nosebleeds are relatively common and occur when there is damage to a blood vessel in the nose. They are not typically a cause for concern, unless the bleeding is persistent or severe.

As the nose is full of blood vessels, any minor injury to the area can cause a nosebleed. These are often mild and easy to treat.

Seek immediate medical attention if the bleeding:

  • is severe
  • lasts longer than 15–30 minutes
  • follows a blow to the head
  • results in swallowing a lot of blood
  • causes weakness or trouble breathing

While roughly 60% of people experience a nosebleed at some point, only 10% of cases are severe enough to require medical attention.

In this article, we explore when a nosebleed may become worrying, as well as causes, treatments, and strategies for prevention.

A person using a cloth and pressure to stop a nosebleed.Share on Pinterest
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A nosebleed, also known as epistaxis, refers to bleeding from the nose typically following damage to the blood vessels in the nasal passage.

Depending on the area where tissue damage occurs, a doctor can categorize nosebleeds as either anterior (front), which are more common, and posterior (back), which are more likely to require medical treatment

Nosebleeds are more common in children and older adults, but are not usually a sign of a problem. They are also common in people with a history of bleeding disorders, genetic bleeding conditions, those who take blood-thinning medications, and those who take medications through the nose.

Many people will experience a nosebleed and in most cases, the bleeding will stop after a few minutes of self-care. Whether the bleeding is minor or severe, it is usually advisable to apply appropriate first aid to reduce or stop the bleeding. This typically involves getting the person with a nosebleed to tilt their head forward, breathe through their mouth, and pinch the soft part of their nose.

Click here to learn more about how to stop a nosebleed.

Many guidelines advise people to receive professional care for a nosebleed that:

  • is heavy
  • is long lasting
  • comes back
  • makes the person feel weak or dizzy
  • interrupts day to day activities

People should also seek medical care if:

  • The bleeding lasts longer than 15–30 minutes.
  • They have a history of hospitalization for nosebleeds.
  • They have had a blood transfusion for nosebleeds.
  • They have had more than three recent episodes of nasal bleeding associated with headaches.

Additionally, consider contacting a doctor if a nosebleed occurs in:

  • a baby younger than 2 years
  • anyone taking blood-thinning drugs
  • anyone with symptoms of anemia
  • anyone with a condition that prevents the blood from clotting properly

Nosebleeds usually stem from a rupture of a blood vessel in the nose, and there may be no obvious cause. They happen most often due to trauma, certain medications, or as a result of an underlying health condition.

Some common causes of nosebleeds include:

  • picking the nose
  • blowing the nose too hard
  • dryness, which may result from climate or altitude changes
  • swelling and irritation
  • a foreign body in the nose
  • nasal allergies

Some causes of nosebleeds that are more likely to require professional treatment include:

If a person has a severe or recurring nosebleed, a doctor aims to stop the bleeding and may use a rhinoscope to investigate the cause. What they find can help guide their treatment plan.

Treatment options may include:

  • Nasal packing: This involves inserting a gauze-like material into the nose to help stop the bleeding. The material applies constant pressure, absorbs excess blood, and encourages clot formation.
  • Drops, sprays, ointments, or gels: Lubricating agents can help keep the nasal passage moist, while nasal sprays can constrict the blood vessels in the nose.
  • Changing medication: A doctor may recommend this, but a person should not make any changes before they consult their doctor.
  • Cautery: This involves using a chemical swab or an electrical device to seal off the area of bleeding.
  • Surgery: If other approaches are ineffective, procedures such as tying off or blocking a blood vessel can help prevent bleeding.

While it may not be possible to prevent all causes of a nosebleed, taking the following precautions can help:

  • not picking the nose
  • blowing gently
  • keeping the nasal area clean and moist using saltwater sprays or gels
  • using a humidifier to help keep the environment moist, if possible
  • avoiding irritants such as smoke
  • avoiding allergens and managing allergies
  • taking steps to manage conditions that require blood-thinning medications

Nosebleeds can be concerning, but they are generally not a cause for alarm. They may stem from medication use, nose picking, trauma, or a range of other factors.

Seek medical attention if the bleeding is severe or persistent. Also, if a nosebleed follows a blow to the head or leads to weakness, trouble breathing, or swallowing a significant amount of blood, the person requires professional care. We have more specific information about when to see a doctor above.

Nosebleeds may be more severe in people with bleeding disorders, people who take blood-thinning medications, and people who take medications through the nose.