Nosebleeds can be frightening, but they aren't usually a sign of anything serious. You can often treat them at home.
The medical name for a nosebleed is epistaxis.
During a nosebleed, blood flows from one or both nostrils. It can be heavy or light. It can last from a few seconds to 15 minutes or more.
What to do
To stop a nosebleed:
- sit down at a table, lean forward and firmly pinch the soft part of your nose, just above your nostrils, for at least 10 to 15 minutes
- lean forward and breathe through your mouth – spit out any blood that collects in your throat or mouth into a bowl; do not swallow any blood
- place an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables covered by a towel on your forehead or back of your neck
- stay upright or seated, rather than lying down, as this reduces the blood pressure in the blood vessels of your nose and will help reduce further bleeding
If the bleeding eventually stops, you won't usually need to seek medical advice. But in some cases you may need further treatment from your GP or in hospital.
When to seek medical advice
Immediate action required: Go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) or phone 999 if:
- the bleeding continues for longer than 20 minutes
- the bleeding is heavy and you've lost a lot of blood
- you're having difficulty breathing
- you swallow a large amount of blood that makes you vomit
- the nosebleed developed after a serious injury, such as a car crash
Non-urgent advice: Contact your GP practice if:
- you're taking a blood-thinning medicine (anticoagulant) such as warfarin or have a clotting disorder such as haemophilia and the bleeding doesn't stop
- you have symptoms of anaemia such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath and a pale complexion
- a child under 2 years of age has a nosebleed
- you have nosebleeds that come and go regularly
If your GP practice is closed, phone 111.
What causes nosebleeds?
The inside of your nose is full of tiny, delicate blood vessels that can become damaged and bleed relatively easily.
Common causes of nosebleeds include:
- picking your nose
- blowing your nose very hard
- a minor injury to your nose
- changes in humidity or temperature causing the inside of the nose to become dry and cracked
Occasionally, bleeding can come from the blood vessels deeper within the nose. This can be caused by a blow to the head, recent nasal surgery and hardened arteries (atherosclerosis).
Who gets nosebleeds?
Nosebleeds are fairly common. Most people will experience them every now and again. Anyone can get a nosebleed, but they most often affect:
- children between 2 and 10 years of age
- elderly people
- pregnant women
- people who take blood thinning medication such as aspirin or anticoagulants, such as warfarin
- people with blood clotting disorders, such as haemophilia
Bleeding may also be heavier or last longer if you take anticoagulants, have a blood clotting disorder, or have high blood pressure (hypertension).
There are things you can do to prevent nosebleeds.
- avoid picking your nose and keep your fingernails short
- blow your nose as little as possible and only very gently
- keep your home humidified
- wear a head guard during activities in which your nose or head could get injured
- always follow the instructions that come with nasal decongestants – overusing these can cause nosebleeds
Talk to your GP if you experience nosebleeds frequently and aren't able to prevent them.
If you see your GP or go to hospital with a nosebleed, you'll be assessed to find out how serious your condition is and what's likely to have caused it. This may involve:
- looking inside your nose
- measuring your pulse and blood pressure
- carrying out blood tests
- asking about any other symptoms you have
- additional treatments such as ointments for your nose, cautery to seal blood vessels in your nose, or nasal packing may be required – but will be discussed with you by the doctor
14 March 2023
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