Are Nosebleeds Dangerous?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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closeup bearded man with nosebleed using tissue
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Almost everyone will experience a nosebleed in their lifetime. Nosebleeds (the medical term is “epistaxis”) are very, very common occurrences among children and adults alike. Most of the time, nosebleeds are caused by dry air, nose picking, or a minor injury. Occasionally an underlying medical condition can cause blood to flow from the nostrils. And for a few people, even a minor nosebleed can be dangerous.

What Causes Nosebleeds?

Most nosebleeds occur just inside the nostril, usually along the septum—the fibrous “wall” of tissue that divides the nose in half. This area of the nose contains many small blood vessels near the surface, and even small irritations like blowing too forcefully when you have a cold can cause one of those vessels to rupture and leak blood from the nostril.

Other common causes of nosebleeds include:

  • Allergies

  • Broken nose or another injury to the head or face

  • Dry interior air, such as during the winter season when the furnace runs

  • Sinus infection

  • Object stuck in the nose

  • Overusing decongestant nasal sprays or snorting illicit drugs

  • Oxygen delivered through a nasal cannula

How to Stop a Nosebleed

Nosebleeds usually affect only one nostril at a time, not both. Bleeding from both nostrils simultaneously, especially in conjunction with a head injury or facial trauma, requires immediate medical attention. But for the most common, single-nostril nosebleed, you can usually stop it quickly by using this procedure:

  • Stand or sit and lean slightly forward. (Do not lie down or tilt your head back.)

  • Use a tissue or damp washcloth to catch any blood droplets that fall from your nose.

  • Gently pinch your nostrils shut and breathe naturally through your mouth.

  • Maintain gentle pressure on your nostrils for a full 10 minutes. (Be sure to time it.)

  • Release your nostrils and check to see if the bleeding has stopped.

  • If not, repeat the process again.

  • If the nosebleed doesn’t stop after two or three attempts, seek medical attention.

How to Tell If a Nosebleed Is Serious

Occasionally, a nosebleed can be a serious threat to health. For example, people with hemophilia—a disorder that prevents blood from clotting—can lose a lot of blood from a simple nosebleed that wouldn’t be a threat to someone whose blood clots normally. Or, a person who takes a blood-thinning medication might be at greater risk of serious blood loss from a nosebleed.

You should seek emergency medical attention for a nosebleed when:

  • Bleeding continues for more than 20 to 30 minutes.

  • Bleeding occurs due to head or facial trauma.

  • Bleeding is excessive.

  • The nosebleed is accompanied by bleeding gums or bleeding from the ears.

  • You have been diagnosed with hemophilia and do not routinely receive clotting factors.

  • You take anticoagulants (blood thinners) and the bleeding won’t stop.

  • Your nose is misshapen or deformed.

 
If you get a nosebleed accompanied by fever, lethargy or pain or pressure in your sinuses, you should see your doctor to find out if you have a sinus infection (sinusitis). You also should contact your doctor if you start getting nosebleeds after starting a new medication, especially an anticoagulant, as the dosage might need to be adjusted.

How to Prevent Nosebleeds

Because most nosebleeds occur due to environmental factors like dry air, or personal habits like nose picking, you can take steps to prevent them. Caution your children against picking their noses and scratching the septum. Avoid decongestant nasal sprays but do use saline nasal spray throughout the day to keep nasal tissues hydrated, and apply some water-soluble nasal gel to the septum at bedtime.

If you use a home oxygen concentrator, add a humidifier bottle to it. A cool-mist humidifier in the bedroom can improve air quality in the bedroom during the winter months. During allergy season, avoid blowing your nose forcefully. Instead, blow gently while you keep your mouth open to avoid rupturing the small blood vessels inside your nostrils.

By following these simple strategies, you likely can avoid everyday nosebleeds—and know when to seek treatment for a serious one.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  2. Going with the Flow of Nosebleeds. KidsHealth from Nemours. https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/nosebleeds.html
  3. Fatakia A, Winters R, Amedee R. Epistaxis: A Common Problem. Ochsner J. 2010 Fall; 10(3): 176–178. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3096213/
  4. Hemophilia. U.S. National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. https://medlineplus.gov/hemophilia.html