What Causes Nosebleed?

Medically reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on March 14, 2018Written by Valencia Higuera

Nosebleeds are common. They may be scary, but they rarely indicate a serious medical problem. The nose contains many blood vessels, which are located close to the surface in the front and back of the nose. They’re very fragile and bleed easily.... Read More

Overview

Nosebleeds are common. They may be scary, but they rarely indicate a serious medical problem. The nose contains many blood vessels, which are located close to the surface in the front and back of the nose. They’re very fragile and bleed easily. Nosebleeds are common in adults and children between the ages of 3 and 10.

There are two kinds of nosebleeds. An anterior nosebleed occurs when the blood vessels in the front of the nose break and bleed. A posterior nosebleed occurs in the back or the deepest part of the nose. In this case, blood flows down the back of the throat. Posterior nosebleeds can be dangerous.

Causes of nosebleeds

There are many causes of nosebleeds. A sudden or infrequent nosebleed is rarely serious. If you have frequent nosebleeds, you could have a more serious problem.

Dry air is the most common cause of nosebleeds. Living in a dry climate and using a central heating system can dry out the nasal membranes, which are tissues inside the nose. This dryness causes crusting inside the nose. Crusting may itch or become irritated. If your nose is scratched or picked, it can bleed.

Taking antihistamines and decongestants for allergies, colds, or sinus problems can also dry out the nasal membranes and cause nosebleeds. Frequent nose blowing is another cause of nosebleeds.

Other common causes of nosebleeds include:

Other causes of nosebleeds include:

Most nosebleeds don’t require medical attention. However, you should seek medical attention if your nosebleed lasts longer than 20 minutes, or if it occurs after an injury. This may be a sign of a posterior nosebleed, which is more serious.

Injuries that might cause a nosebleed include a fall, a car accident, or a punch in the face. Nosebleeds that occur after an injury may indicate a broken nose, skull fracture, or internal bleeding.

Diagnosing a nosebleed

If you seek medical attention for a nosebleed, your doctor will conduct a physical examination to determine a cause. They’ll check your nose for signs of a foreign object. They’ll also ask questions about your medical history and current medications.

Tell your doctor about any other symptoms you’ve and any recent injuries. There’s no single test to determine the cause of a nosebleed. However, your doctor might use diagnostic tests to find the cause. These tests include:

How to treat a nosebleed

Treatment for nosebleeds will vary depending on the type and cause of the nosebleed. Read on to find out about treatments for different nosebleeds.

Anterior nosebleed

If you have an anterior nosebleed, you bleed from the front of your nose, usually a nostril. You can try to treat an anterior nosebleed at home. While sitting up, squeeze the soft part of your nose. Make sure that your nostrils are fully closed. Keep your nostrils closed for 10 minutes, lean forward slightly, and breathe through your mouth.

Don’t lie down when trying to stop a nosebleed. Lying down can result in swallowing blood and can irritate your stomach. Release your nostrils after 10 minutes and check to see if the bleeding has stopped. Repeat these steps if bleeding continues.

You can also apply a cold compress over the bridge of your nose or use a nasal spray decongestant to close off the small blood vessels.

See your doctor immediately if you’re unable to stop a nosebleed on your own. You might have a posterior nosebleed that requires more invasive treatment.

Posterior nosebleed

If you have a posterior nosebleed, you bleed from the back of your nose. The blood also tends to flow from the back of your nose down your throat. Posterior nosebleeds are less common and often more serious than anterior nosebleeds. Posterior nosebleeds shouldn’t be treated at home. Contact your doctor immediately or go to the emergency room (ER) if you think you have a posterior nosebleed.

Nosebleeds caused by foreign objects

If a foreign object is the cause, your doctor can remove the object.

Cauterization

A medical technique called cauterization can also stop persistent or frequent nosebleeds. This involves your doctor burning the blood vessels in your nose with either a heating device or silver nitrate, a compound used to remove tissue. Your doctor may pack your nose with cotton, gauze, or foam. They may also use a balloon catheter to apply pressure to your blood vessels and stop the bleeding.

How to prevent nosebleeds

There are several ways to prevent nosebleeds.

  • Use a humidifier in your house to keep the air moist.
  • Avoid picking your nose.
  • Limit your intake of aspirin, which can thin your blood and contribute to nosebleeds. Discuss this with your doctor first because the benefits of taking aspirin might outweigh the risks.
  • Use antihistamines and decongestants in moderation. These can dry out the nose.
  • Use a saline spray or gel to keep the nasal passages moist.

Takeaway

Nosebleeds are common and not usually serious. Most are anterior nosebleeds and can often be treated at home. These usually occur suddenly and don’t last long. They result from many causes, especially dry air and repeated scratching or picking of the nose. If you can’t stop the bleeding from your anterior nosebleed, you should call your doctor immediately.

A posterior nosebleed can be more serious. If you think you might have a posterior nosebleed, contact your doctor immediately or go to the ER. Keeping the air humidified in your home, avoiding picking your nose, and using nasal mists to keep your nasal passages moist are good ways to help prevent nosebleeds.

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Medically reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on March 14, 2018Written by Valencia Higuera

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose. Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.

Medically reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on March 14, 2018Written by Valencia Higuera
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