Nosebleeds often seem to happen out of the blue, striking at random. All that blood can be scary for kids and adults alike. And while they’re common, there are simple steps you can take to help them stop.
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Ear, nose and throat surgeon Mohamad Chaaban, MD, shares do’s and don’ts for stopping a nosebleed.
How to stop a bloody nose in its tracks
Yikes, here comes the blood! You’re panicking, and things are getting messy.
Sometimes, a nosebleed feels like it could last forever. But in reality, the average nosebleed doesn’t last more than 20 minutes. Be sure to call your healthcare provider if it does — or if you’re having them frequently, or if the blood flow is heavy.
Keep in mind: If this is a bloody nose related to an injury to your face, be sure to see a doctor right away to be evaluated.
Even for 20 minutes or fewer, a nosebleed can still be pretty alarming and irritating. Take the following steps to put an end to a nosebleed.
Step 1: Sit up straight
That’s right, the best thing to stop a nosebleed is to remain vertical.
“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 no, you shouldn’t tip your head back (more on that in a moment).
Step 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’s bleeding.
Step 3: Apply pressure
You’ll need an extra tissue for this one, just in case. As the blood vessels are located near your nostrils, apply firm pressure to the sides of your nose (not the bridge) — as though you were pinching your nose shut. You should be gently pinching the soft sides of your nose, just above your nostrils.
Step 4: Wait for the bleeding to stop
And now, we wait. “Keep the pressure for at least 10 to 15 minutes before checking to see if the bleeding has stopped,” Dr. Chaaban advises. Patience is key here — set a timer and sit tight. And don’t relieve pressure before the time is up to check, as you may restart the bleeding.
Step 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.
Step 6: Keep calm
Any kind of bleeding can make anyone skittish. But try and stay calm as best you can. The more you panic, the longer it could take for the bleeding to stop — and the same is true if you’re a parent or caregiver 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 20-30-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 states.
What not to do for a nosebleed
Just as important as knowing what to do is knowing what not to do, even though they may seem like good ideas. But Dr. Chaaban sorts fact from fiction when it comes to treating a bloody nose.
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 cautions. “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 (see above), you need to keep that pressure consistent. 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.
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 can also 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.
- Keep your nose moist. Especially in the wintertime, make sure you either use nasal saline or a humidifier to keep the nose moist. Most bleeding is related to dry air in the winter.
When should you see a doctor for a nosebleed or bloody nose?
Even if your bloody nose isn’t the result of an injury, it can still be a red flag in some cases. It can also be a result of bleeding from larger blood vessels in the back of your nose that may require further management.
Persistent and recurring nosebleeds can be a sign of another health issue. If you get frequent nosebleeds, nosebleeds that just won’t stop or if your nosebleeds are accompanied by other symptoms, such as numbness or pressure in your face, make an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doctor to get it checked out.