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
In this article, we explore when a nosebleed may become worrying, as well as causes, treatments, and strategies for prevention.
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
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
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:
- severe trauma, particularly including a blow to the head
- bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia
- blood-thinning medications, such as heparin
- genetic conditions, such as Von Willebrand’s disease
- extremely high blood pressure, known as a hypertensive crisis
- head and neck cancer
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.