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Nosebleeds

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Sitting in science class one afternoon, you feel your nose begin to run. As you wonder if you're catching a cold, you swipe your nose with a tissue and are shocked to see blood! You have a nosebleed, and if you're like most teens, you may be embarrassed. You might hope no one will notice, and you might be a little scared, too.

Although nosebleeds are usually harmless and easily controlled, it may look like a quart of blood is coming from your nose! Try not to worry — nosebleeds are almost always easy to stop.

Stopping the Gush

Try these simple tips to stop your nosebleed:

  • Get some tissues or a damp cloth to catch the blood.
  • Sit or stand so your head is above your heart.
  • Tilt your head forward and pinch the soft part of your nose (the nostrils) together just below the bony center part of your nose. Applying pressure helps stop the blood flow and the nosebleed will usually stop with 10 minutes of steady pressure — don't keep checking to see if the bleeding has stopped.

If you get a nosebleed, don't blow your nose. Doing so can cause additional nosebleeds. Also, don't tilt your head back. This common practice will cause blood to run into your throat. This can make you cough or choke, and if you swallow a lot of blood, you might begin vomiting.

If you've tried the steps above twice and the bleeding continues after the second attempt, you'll need to see your school nurse or a doctor.

Once you've stopped the initial nosebleed, don't lift heavy objects or do other activities that cause you to strain, and try not to blow your nose for 24 hours.

Now that your nosebleed is over, let's take a look at what a nosebleed is and what can cause it.

Different Kinds of Nosebleeds

The most common kind of nosebleed is an anterior nosebleed, which comes from the front of the nose. Capillaries, or very small blood vessels, that are inside the nose may break and bleed, causing this type of nosebleed.

recurrent epistaxis illustration

Another kind of nosebleed is a posterior nosebleed, which comes from the deepest part of the nose. Blood from a posterior nosebleed flows down the back of the throat even if the person is sitting or standing. Teens rarely have posterior nosebleeds, which occur most often in older people, people who have high blood pressure, and people who have had nose or face injuries.

Causes and Remedies

The most common cause of anterior nosebleeds is dry air. A dry climate or heated indoor air irritates and dries out nasal membranes, causing crusts that may itch and then bleed when scratched or picked. Colds may also irritate the lining of the nose. Bleeding may occur after repeated blowing. When you combine a cold with dry winter air, you have the perfect formula for nosebleeds.

Allergies can also cause problems, and a doctor may prescribe medications such as antihistamines or decongestants to control an itchy, runny, or stuffy nose. This can also dry out the nasal membranes and contribute to nosebleeds.

An injury or blow to the nose may cause bleeding and isn't usually cause for alarm. If you ever have a facial injury, use the tips outlined earlier to stop the nosebleed. If you can't stop the bleeding after 10 minutes or you are concerned about other facial injuries, see a medical professional right away.

Nosebleeds are rarely cause for alarm, but frequent nosebleeds might indicate a more serious problem. If you get nosebleeds more than once a week, you should see your doctor. Most cases of frequent nosebleeds are easily treated. Sometimes tiny blood vessels inside the nose become irritated and don't heal. This happens more frequently in teens who have ongoing allergies or frequent colds. A doctor may have a solution if you have this problem.

If your doctor rules out a sinus infection, allergies, or irritated blood vessels, he or she may order other tests to see why you're getting frequent nosebleeds. Rarely, a bleeding disorder or abnormally formed blood vessels could be a possibility.

Cocaine (or other drugs that are snorted through the nose) can also cause nosebleeds. If you suspect a friend is using cocaine, try talking about it and get help from a trusted adult.

Preventing Nosebleeds

  • Whenever you blow your nose (especially when you have a cold), you should blow gently into a soft tissue. Don't blow forcefully or pick your nose.
  • Your doctor may recommend a humidifier to moisten your indoor air. You can also prevent your nasal passages from becoming too dry in winter months by using lubricants such as an antibiotic ointment before going to bed at night. Apply a pea-sized dab to a cotton swab and gently rub just the cotton tip up inside each nostril, especially on the middle part of the nose (called the nasal septum). Some doctors prescribe saline (salt water) drops for the same purpose.
  • Wear protective athletic equipment when participating in sports that could cause injury to the nose.

An occasional nosebleed may make you worry, but there's no need to panic — now you know what to do!

Reviewed by: Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: January 2011

License

Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

© 1995–2014 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.

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