A sudden nosebleed can be frightening—especially if you’re not used to them. But, you don’t have to panic: It’s more likely that your bleeding nose isn’t actually a sign of anything serious. We run down what could cause your nosebleed, what you should do to stop it, and when you should head to the emergency room ASAP
What causes a nosebleed?
It’s most likely that your nosebleed is an anterior nosebleed, meaning the blood vessels at the front of your nose broke and bled. Our noses are especially prone to bleed, thanks to the many tiny blood vessels along its lining that can be easily damaged at the slightest pressure.
Lucky for you, an anterior nosebleed shouldn’t be much cause for concern. According to Dr. Cesar Anthony Yabut, an otorhinolaryngologist (an ENT surgeon) at General Santos Doctors Hospital, “the most common cause of epistaxis or a nosebleed is actually the most benign: rhinitis or a runny nose.” We’ve all experienced blowing our nose too hard to relieve an especially bad cold: this pressure can rupture your nose’s blood vessels and cause a minor nosebleed.
Another reason, shares Dr. Yabut, could be extreme temperatures or allergies. Dry and cold temperatures can be especially irritating for your nose. When your nasal membranes (or the tissues in your nose) get too dry, this can result in crusting inside your nose which then leads to itching. And when you pick at this itchiness too much, you might end up with a nosebleed. Antihistamines can also cause this dryness, so you have to be extra careful not to scratch or pick your nose!
For kids, another common cause is inserting foreign objects up their nostrils, which can cause blockage and bleeding. If you suffer from hypertension, you might also be more prone to nosebleeds. A less common cause of nosebleeds, according to Dr. Yabut, are masses that may grow in your nose: These can be polyps, a benign growth, or a scarier, malignant tumor.
What should you do in case of a nosebleed?
More often than not, an anterior nosebleed can be treated at home. For first-aid, start with sitting upright, leaning forward slightly to reduce blood pressure in your nose. Dr. Yabut then advises pinching the soft part of your nose above your nostrils to stop the bleeding. If this doesn’t work, he recommends inserting a cotton ball—small enough to fit but also large enough that you can get it out afterward—and pinching again. You can also place an ice compress on your nose—though Dr. Yabut clarifies that there’s no scientific evidence yet to back this remedy, it doesn’t hurt to try as many have said it helps. Repeat these steps for 15 minutes or until the bleeding stops.
When should you head to the ER?
If your nosebleed lasts for more than 20 minutes, it’s time for a trip to the ER. This could mean that you’re suffering from a posterior nosebleed or a nosebleed that occurs at the back of your nose. This is especially dangerous as blood can also leak into your throat (scary, we know!) A posterior nosebleed happens when the back of your nose or nasal cavity is damaged, which can happen because of a head or nose injury. High blood pressure and an undetected tumor can also cause this so better make that trip to the emergency room ASAP.
According to Dr. Yabut, your nosebleed should also be a cause of alarm if you start feeling weak or dizzy, if you have a history of anemia, or if you’re taking blood-thinning medicine.
At the ER, doctors will not only apply first aid but will also find the root cause of your nosebleed and replace blood if necessary.
What should you do to prevent nosebleeds?
“The easiest preventive measure is to control the cause of the [nosebleed],” says Dr. Yabut. This means that if you tend to blow your nose a little too hard, you might want to reign that in. If you have hypertension, make sure that you are able to control your blood pressure well. If your nosebleed is caused by dry temperatures, a humidifier could also help alleviate this. And if your nose starts getting irritated—whether it’s due to a bad cold or dry temperatures—resist the urge to pick your nose and just let things be.
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