Nosebleeds often seem to happen out of the blue, striking at random. All that blood can be scary for kids and adults alike. They’re common, but if they’re not treated properly, they could become a medical problem.
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Ear, nose and throat surgeon Mohamad Chaaban, MD, shares do’s and don’ts for stopping a nosebleed and preventing the next one.
How to stop a nosebleed in its tracks
Yikes, here comes the blood! You’re panicking, and things are getting messy. What now? Just as important as knowing what to do is knowing what not to do. Dr. Chaaban sorts fact from fiction when it comes to treating a bloody nose.
What not to do for a nosebleed
First things first: There are some things you shouldn’t do, even though they may seem like good ideas. You may even have been told that they’re the right way to treat a nosebleed! Here are some actions to avoid:
- Don’t tip your head back. You may have heard this advice growing up, but Dr. Chaaban says it’s not advised. “You don’t want to tip your head back because then the blood drains down into your throat, which can cause choking,” he warns. “Also, the blood then ends up in your stomach, which causes discomfort.”
- Don’t stuff your nose. It might seem to make sense to stuff tissues or napkins up your nostrils to slow the bleeding, but doing so can irritate the lining of your nose and cause more bleeding when the stuffing is removed.
- Don’t keep checking on it. When you’ve applied pressure to a nosebleed (more on how to do that below), keep applying that pressure. Don’t check in every other minute to see if it’s stopped. “If you’re taking the pressure off more frequently, it’s going to take longer for the bleeding to stop,” Dr. Chaaban says.
5 steps to make a nosebleed stop
Now that you know what you shouldn’t do, let’s move on to what you should do. Take the following steps to put an end to a nosebleed.
1. Sit up straight
“The first thing to do is sit upright (or to sit your child upright),” Dr. Chaaban says. “Either sit down or stand with your head bent forward slightly.” And remember: Don’t tip that head back.
2. Use a nasal spray
If you happen to have an over-the-counter nasal decongestant (oxymetazoline or phenylephrine), you can spray it into your nose on the side that is bleeding.
3. Apply pressure
The blood vessels are located near the nostrils, so apply firm pressure not to the bridge of your nose but to the soft front part.
4. Wait for the bleeding to stop
“Keep pressure for at least 10 to 15 minutes before checking to see if the bleeding has stopped,” Dr. Chaaban instructs. Don’t relieve pressure before then to check, as you may restart the bleeding.
5. Try ice
If the bleeding hasn’t stopped after 15 minutes, apply an ice pack or cold compress to the bridge of your nose, which can constrict the blood vessels and help bring the blood flow to a stop.
6. Keep calm
The more you panic, the longer it could take for the bleeding to stop — and the same is true if you’re a parent dealing with a child’s nosebleed. If you seem chill, little ones are more likely to follow suit.
If you’re still bleeding at the 30-minute mark, it’s time to talk to a medical professional. “If you’ve followed all of these steps and the blood just keeps coming, reach out to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician for guidance,” Dr. Chaaban advises.
Tips for recovering from a nosebleed
After you’ve had a nosebleed, you want to be careful not to re-irritate your nose and start another. Here’s how to promote healing.
- Blow your nose gently. Forceful nose-blowing can dislodge scabs as they heal, which will restart the bleeding.
- Sneeze through an open mouth. Closed-mouth sneezing, too, can dislodge scabbing.
- Avoid heavy lifting. The strain increases blood pressure, which can bring on bleeding.
- Don’t pick! Nose-picking is one of the primary causes of nosebleeds in little kids (and plenty of adults secretly do it, too). Picking agitates healing scabs and can damage blood vessels.
How to prevent future nosebleeds
Most people will experience a nosebleed or two in their lives. For the most part, they happen spontaneously and are nothing to worry about — though certain people are at higher risk for more frequent or more severe bleeding, especially those who live in cold climates with dry winter air.
Dr. Chaaban shares tips for reducing the chance of nosebleeds, with one key factor in mind: “It’s all about keeping your nose moist,” he says.
- Turn on a humidifier.
- Use a saline nasal spray.
- Ask your doctor about moisturizing ointments that are safe to apply inside the nose.
- Take steps to control your allergies.
- Avoid irritants such as smoking.
- Wear protective equipment if you work someplace with significant chemical exposure.
- Teach kids not to pick their nose.
Should you see a doctor for a bloody nose?
Persistent and recurring nosebleeds can be a sign of another health issue. If you get frequent nosebleeds, if you have a nosebleed that just won’t stop or if your nosebleeds are accompanied by other symptoms, such as numbness or pressure in the face, make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doctor to get checked out.