Causes of Nosebleeds
Sudden and inexplicable nosebleeds may seem scary, but typically they’re not. To put you at ease in case you have one, we’ve assembled a list of common nosebleed causes, as well as tips on how to treat a bleeding nose and when to seek medical care.
1. Underlying Health Conditions
Liver disease, kidney disease, chronic alcohol consumption, or another underlying health condition can lower your blood’s ability to clot and therefore cause your nose to bleed.
Heart conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure) and congestive heart failure can also cause nosebleeds, as can hypertensive crisis — a sudden, rapid increase in blood pressure that may be accompanied by a severe headache, shortness of breath, and anxiety, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Colds, allergies, and frequent nose-blowing can also irritate the lining of your nose, resulting in a nosebleed.
2. Dry Air
Dry air from indoor heating or outdoor cold can dry out the lining of the nose, causing it to crack and bleed. Using a humidifier while sleeping can help relieve dryness, and nasal saline gels are helpful for moistening the nostrils. Staying hydrated is also important.
3. Foreign Objects
Nosebleeds can also occur if a foreign object is placed in the nose. This is most common among small children, who explore their world by putting objects in their mouth, nose, or ears. Examples of these items include small toys, pebbles, food, erasers, and dirt.
4. Blood-Thinning Medications
Because blood clotting is a necessary step in preventing or stopping a nosebleed, any medication that changes the blood’s ability to clot can cause a bloody nose — or make one harder to stop. Examples include anticoagulants like warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven), the anti-platelet medication clopidogrel (Plavix), over-the-counter drugs like aspirin, and prescription or over-the-counter NSAIDS like naproxen.
Many people with the heart condition atrial fibrillation (afib), an irregular heartbeat, take anticoagulant medication to prevent blood clots from forming. And if you’ve had a heart attack, your doctor may have recommended a daily aspirin to help prevent a recurrence. Blood clots can lead to a stroke or heart attack if they travel through the blood and reach the brain or heart, but the anticoagulant medications commonly used to prevent clots carry an increased risk of bleeding.
5. Nose Picking or Scratching
Accidental injury to the blood vessels in the nostril from nose picking can cause a nosebleed. This is common in children, but also in adults who are prone to itching or scratching inside their nose.
How to Stop a Bloody Nose at Home
- While sitting and leaning forward, use direct pressure to stop bleeding by pinching your nostrils shut for at least 10 minutes, according to the Mayo Clinic, breathing through your mouth.
- Alternatively, a nose-pinching device made from tongue depressors and tape can be effective, according to one study.
- If bleeding starts again, use a nasal decongestant spray (such as Afrin, Dristan, or Vicks Sinex) to constrict the blood vessels of your nose, and again apply direct pressure to stop bleeding. You can also spray the nasal decongestant spray on a cotton ball or piece of tissue, insert it in the nostril, and hold until the bleeding stops.
To prevent another bloody nose, use saline and topical ointments to moisturize inside your nose, but only once bleeding has stopped. And avoid picking or scratching your nose.
When to Get Help for Nosebleeds
Although most nosebleeds can be treated at home, some are severe and require medical attention.
“Nosebleeds are rarely life-threatening,” says Kevin Campbell, MD, a cardiologist at Wake Heart and Vascular in Raleigh, North Carolina. “But under certain circumstances, such as if you’re taking blood thinners like aspirin or warfarin, nosebleeds can be quite concerning and require medical care.”
In such cases, your healthcare provider may need to adjust the dose of blood-thinning medication, he says.
Having more than one nosebleed a week is also a sign that you should talk to your doctor or an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician, also known as an otolaryngologist. “If nosebleeds are recurrent — whether or not you’re on blood-thinning medications — it’s reasonable to seek help from your primary care physician,” says Dr. Campbell. He adds that recurrent nosebleeds may point to other, more significant medical conditions.
“You should certainly seek medical attention in an emergency room if your nosebleed lasts longer than a few minutes, or if you’re unable to stop the bleeding with direct manual pressure,” Campbell says.
Additional reporting by Ashley Welch.