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Everything You Need to Know About Nosebleeds

What's causing your bloody nose—and is it cause for concern?

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nosebleeds woman bleedingPhoto: Shutterstock

What’s making your nose bleed?

If blood is oozing from your nose, the situation might be as serious as its dramatic appearance suggests, but odds are it’s not. The wall between your nostrils is full of tiny vessels that break fairly easily—as a result of bumping your nose or blowing it too hard, for example. Irritation and blockage from allergies, colds or the flu can trigger a nosebleed, too, as can overusing nasal decongestants or breathing dry air.

None of these scenarios are usually cause for major concern. That said, blood-thinning medications or disorders, such as hemophilia, can make the bleeding continue long enough to warrant medical attention. And occasionally, the damaged blood vessel is one of the larger ones far back in the nose, near the throat. Posterior nosebleeds, as these injuries are called, are less common but more serious than those near the opening of the nostril. Their possible triggers include a blow to the head, a broken nose or a nasal tumour.

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nosebleeds man nosePhoto: Shutterstock

When should I seek medical attention?

If you have reason to suspect a posterior nosebleed, head to the hospital. Otherwise, start by sitting down and leaning forward slightly. This will direct the blood toward your nose rather than letting it slide down your throat or airways. “Swallowing it can lead to nausea and vomiting,” says Dr. Martin Sorge, co-author of a recent German review of nosebleed treatments. “Besides, there’s a danger you could breathe some blood, which could lead to pneumonia.” For the same reasons, you shouldn’t lie down before the bleeding stops.

Next, firmly pinch the soft part of your nose, below the bony bridge. Even if it’s clear that only one nostril is affected, pinch them both together: this will apply enough pressure on your wound to staunch the bleeding. Continue this way for at least 10 minutes before releasing your hold to check how things are progressing. The bleeding will usually end within 20 minutes of pinching or less, but if it doesn’t, go to the nearest emergency room. You should also head there if you’ve swallowed enough blood to cause vomiting, you’re having trouble breathing without effort or you notice signs of excessive blood loss, such as dizziness or fainting.

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Nose bleeds woman bloody tissuePhoto: Shutterstock

What can I do about my nosebleeds?

Doctors have tricks up their sleeves that aren’t available to you at home. If they can pinpoint the bleeding site, they’ll likely try to cauterize it with chemicals. Otherwise they may decide to put pressure on your wound, wherever it may be, by filling up the space inside your nose. To this end, they may stuff your nose with sterile, lubricated gauze or, if you have a posterior nosebleed, blow up a specially shaped balloon inside the nostril.

After a nosebleed is resolved, there are steps you can take to avoid reopening the same wound. For the next day or two, don’t blow your nose if you can help it. If you feel a sneeze coming on, try to release most of it out of your mouth. If you think dry air was a factor, try humidifying your room or using a saline or water-based nasal gel. Avoid heavy lifting, because it could strain your damaged blood vessel, and abstain from smoking (which dries out your nose), drinking hot liquids or taking hot showers (the steam can cause the blood vessels to dilate). In short, be gentle with your nose and give it a chance to heal.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada