Getting a nosebleed or seeing a child get one can be dramatic and scary, but most nosebleeds are nothing to worry about. Nosebleeds (also medically known as “epistaxis”) are very common. Almost every person has had at least one in their lifetime. They are usually caused by dry air or nose-picking.
During a nosebleed, blood flows from one or both nostrils. It can be heavy or light and last from a few seconds to 10 minutes or more.
If you or your child gets a nosebleed, the important thing is to know how to manage it properly. With the right self-care, most nosebleeds will stop on their own.
There are two kinds of nosebleeds. The nosebleeds occur when the blood vessels in the front of the nose break and bleed and this is the most common type of nosebleed and it is not usually serious, and there are nosebleeds that occur in the back or the deepest part of the nose causing blood to flow down the back of the throat and these are rare but can be dangerous if the cause isn’t treated.
There are many causes of nosebleeds. A sudden or infrequent nosebleed is rarely serious. If you have frequent nosebleeds, you could have a more serious problem.
The inside of the nose has a lot of blood vessels that are close to the surface, so it’s easy for them to get irritated or injured. Most nosebleeds are caused by nothing more than the irritation from dry or cold air. This dryness causes crusting inside the nose. Crusting may itch or become irritated and if the nose is scratched or picked, it can bleed.
Sometimes people get nosebleeds because they are suffering from allergies or a cold, and their nose has become raw and inflamed. Taking antihistamines and decongestants for allergies, colds, or sinus problems can also dry out the nasal membranes and cause nosebleeds. Frequent nose blowing is another cause of nosebleeds.
Other causes of nosebleeds include high blood pressure, a bleeding disorder, blood clotting disorder, and cancer.
Most nosebleeds can be managed at home. However, one should seek urgent medical attention if the nosebleed lasts longer than 20 minutes or occurs after an injury, or in someone taking medications which prevent or treat blood clots, someone who is known to have high blood pressure, if the nosebleed becomes frequent or there is any bleeding from other body sites such as under the skin or bleeding from the gums.
Injuries that might cause a nosebleed include a fall, a car accident, or a punch in the face. Nosebleeds that occur after an injury may indicate a broken nose, skull fracture, or internal bleeding.
You can treat a nosebleed at home. While sitting up, gently squeeze the soft part of your nose and make sure that the nostrils are fully closed. Keeping the nostrils closed for 10 minutes, lean forward slightly, and breathe through the mouth. Do not lie down when trying to stop a nosebleed. Release the nostrils after 10 minutes and check to see if the bleeding has stopped. Repeat these step if bleeding continues.
You can also apply a cold compress over the bridge of the nose
If the nose bleeding is persistent despite these measures or losing a lot of blood or feeling dizzy, one needs to seek proper medical attention.
Your medical personnel will provide first aid to stop the nose bleeding, examine you and do the necessary investigations to find the probable cause of the nosebleed. If a foreign object is the cause, your doctor can remove the object. A medical technique called cauterization can also stop persistent or frequent nosebleeds. This involves your doctor burning the blood vessels in your nose with silver nitrate (a compound used to remove tissue) or a heating device. Your doctor may also pack your nose with cotton or gauze to apply pressure to your blood vessels and stop the bleeding.
Dr. Ian Shyaka is a
General Practitioner at Rwanda Military Hospital