Nosebleeds can be scary, but they're usually not dangerous. According to the US National Health Service, the nose is packed with tiny, fragile blood vessels that can easily rupture if they're scratched or injured. Some of the most common causes of nosebleeds are picking your nose, blowing your nose too hard, or having dry nasal passages.
In some cases, nosebleeds originate not from the blood vessels in the end of the nose but from deeper in the nose. These are known as posterior nosebleeds, and they're more common in adults than children. They can happen because of hardened arteries, tumours, blood-thinning medications, or a broken nose.
INSIDER spoke with medical experts about the best ways to treat a nosebleed, how to avoid one restarting, and what to do if your bloody nose doesn't stop.
As most nosebleeds will stop by themselves in a minute or two, the standard treatment is to simply apply pressure to the damaged blood vessel by pinching firmly just below the bridge of your nose. You should hold pressure there for at least ten minutes.
The blood vessels responsible for most nosebleeds are below the bridge, so pinching above it won't do anything. Lean forward slightly to keep from swallowing blood - tilting your head back won't stop the bleeding, but it may lead to blood backtracking into your throat. Try to stay upright to reduce the blood pressure in your nose.
There aren't any medications you can take to prevent nosebleeds, but you can use an over-the-counter nasal spray to staunch bleeding once it's started. According to Medscape, nasal decongestants work to stop nosebleeds by constricting the blood vessels in the nose.
"The best quick fix for a nosebleed is to use an over-the-counter nasal decongestant and spray it in the nose on the side it is bleeding from," board-certified facial plastic surgeon Dr. Geoffrey Trenkle told INSIDER. "Once that has been applied, hold firm pressure over the nostrils for 15 minutes straight. This will stop almost any normal nosebleed."
If you don't like the sensation of nasal sprays, you can soak gauze or tissue in decongestant and press that into your nose. Trenkle also said people with dry and cracked noses could use a bit of petroleum jelly to soothe inside of the nasal passages.
Just like you'd ice a nasty bruise or a swollen ankle, cooling down the area around your nose is an easy and noninvasive way to slow down a nosebleed.
"Cooling the area at the bridge of the nose and nape of the neck can help staunch a nosebleed through vasoconstriction," Michael Whitehead, a critical care paramedic with MedicWest Ambulance, told INSIDER. "By slowing the flow of blood, your body can more easily form a clot and stop the offending vein from leaking."
To use this technique, wrap a cloth or paper towel over an ice pack or plastic bag of ice and apply it to the back of your neck or against your face. If you're using ice directly on your nose, be sure to press gently to avoid further injury to the area. Remove the ice if it starts to feel uncomfortably cold.
If you have a nosebleed that doesn't seem to be slowing down and you've already tried gentler methods, you might be able to staunch the flow of blood by forcefully blowing your nose.
"It's very counterintuitive, but sometimes when a nosebleed won't stop, a clot has formed in such a way as to keep the bleeding vessel open," advanced care paramedic Stephani Laing told INSIDER.
Blowing your nose hard could get rid of the problem clot and allow the clotting process to start over, hopefully with better results. After blowing your nose, resume pinching it to apply pressure for at least five minutes.
"I've used this last-resort technique twice in my career for very severe nosebleeds, and it's worked beautifully both times before cauterisation in hospital was needed," Laing said.
Most nosebleeds aren't serious and will stop fairly quickly if you're patient and don't interfere with the healing process.
"A common mistake that prolongs a nosebleed is continuously checking, touching, wiping, or sniffing to see if the nosebleed has stopped," Laing said. "Just pinch the soft parts of the nose and wait five minutes without fussing with it."
Keep doing whatever you did to get the bleeding to stop - packing your nose with gauze, applying pressure, or icing your nose - longer than you think is necessary.
"Most people blow their nose and remove packing well before the body has had a chance to make stronger repairs to the vein than just a clot," Whitehead said.
Though most nosebleeds aren't dangerous and will stop in under 10 minutes, some need medical treatment.
The NHS said you should go to the hospital if your nosebleed lasts longer than 20 minutes, you feel it's particularly heavy and you're losing a lot of blood, you're having trouble breathing, or you've swallowed a large amount of blood and feel nauseated. You should seek immediate medical attention for any nosebleed caused by a car crash or serious injury.
If you do need medical treatment, your doctor may decide to cauterise, or seal by burning, the bleeding vessel after applying a local anaesthetic. They might also pack your nose with special sponges to apply pressure to the vessel.
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