Though common and sometimes frightening, nosebleeds are rarely anything more than a nuisance. They are usually the result of minor irritations in the nasal passages, and most common in children younger than 10, or adults older than 50.
Causes of Nosebleeds
When the membranes lining the inside of the nose dry out and become irritated, the blood vessels break, causing a nosebleed. These are more common in the winter months, when the air is cold and dry. Other factors that may contribute to nosebleeds include colds and allergies, sinus infections, nose picking, blowing the nose too hard, frequent sneezing, overuse of nasal sprays, foreign objects in the nose, and trauma to the nose. If nosebleeds are chronic or occur frequently, they may be the result of high blood pressure or other vascular diseases or, in rare cases, a serious medical condition like a tumor.
The nose is prone to bleeding due to a large number of blood vessels close to the surface, especially in the cartilage of the nasal septum. When these burst, blood may trickle (or in some instances, seep) from the nose. This is most often the result of trauma to the nose, blowing or picking the nose, and dry or cold air. Other causes include sinus infections, colds and allergies, foreign objects in the nasal cavity, blood clotting disorders, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and overuse of nasal sprays. Aspirin can exacerbate the condition. A hereditary disorder known as hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia is characterized by malformed blood vessels that break easily.
Different Types of Nosebleeds
Nosebleeds are categorized depending on where they originate in the nose. Anterior, beginning in the front of the nose, are by far the most common type, with bleeding often confined to a single nostril. Posterior nosebleeds begin high and deep within the nose and cause blood to flow down the back of the mouth and throat. They are rare but serious, and require immediate medical attention.
The first step in treating a nosebleed is to remain calm. Though there may appear to be a lot of blood, bleeding is likely not nearly as bad as it seems. The patient should sit up and lean forward slightly, and pinch their nostrils together using their thumb and index finger. Hold this position for 5 to 10 minutes, until the bleeding has stopped. They should refrain from blowing their nose and sneezing afterwards. If bleeding continues for longer than 20 minutes, or has occurred because of trauma to the head or face, the patient should see a doctor right away. Sometimes, anticoagulants and anti-inflammatories can cause nosebleeds; speak with a doctor about alternative medications.
If the patient is prone to frequent nosebleeds, there are steps they can take to prevent them. Keep the nasal lining moist with a light coating of petroleum jelly several times a day, or use a saline nasal spray. Run a humidifier, especially if they live in a dry climate. Quit smoking; this causes dryness and irritation. They may want to consult an otolaryngologist if recurring nosebleeds are a problem. If they are prone to frequent nosebleeds, they should try using a humidifier to moisten the air. Avoid tobacco smoke. Saline nasal sprays or petroleum jelly can help keep their nasal passages moist.
Call Southern Utah Ear, Nose, Throat, Allergy, and Facial Plastics at (435) 628-3334 for more information or to schedule an appointment.