5 Things You Didn't Want To Know About Nosebleeds

Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
It's never comforting to suddenly have a bunch of blood running out of your nose — nosebleeds are both gross and scary. But chances are you're going to experience one of these at some point in your life, so you might as well know what's going on, why it's happening, how to stop it quickly — and when to actually worry.

We'll make it quick. Ahead, everything you need to know about dealing with nosebleeds.

They can come out of nowhere.
"The nose has a very vascular structure," explains Wais Rahmati, MD, director of the Adult ENT Clinic at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, meaning that it's full of blood vessels. "That allows it to filter, humidify, and warm the air that we’re breathing in."

But all those blood vessels (which are protected by a very thin layer of skin) also make the nose a prime target for unexpected bleeding. Any kind of irritation of that delicate tissue, such as an itch, a gnarly booger, and so on, exposes the many vessels hiding underneath. That's why nosebleeds can catch us off-guard after a seemingly innocuous scratch.

Your nasal lining can crack.
Another major cause of nosebleeds: dryness. When that delicate lining gets too dry, it can crack just like the back of your hand, causing pain and bleeding. That's especially common during winter, when the air is drier, which exposes the vessels and makes them more vulnerable.

Seasonal allergies are another common culprit, because aggressively blowing, rubbing, or, yes, picking your nose at any time of year can cause bleeding. Allergy medications, such as antihistamines and nasal sprays, can also dry out the nasal lining, creating the perfect conditions for a nosebleed.

Please don't tilt your head backward.
If you get a nosebleed, you should pinch your nose and lean forward. Otherwise the blood can drip down the back of your throat, freak you out, raise your blood pressure, and keep the bleeding going. Dr. Rahmati says that 90% of nosebleeds are caused by trauma in the front of the nose, so applying pressure there and tilting forward for 10 to 15 minutes will put a stop to the bleeding in the vast majority of cases.

You can also go the extremely fashionable route and stuff your nose with tissue. But that might cause even more bleeding if, when you take out the tissue, you unintentionally remove the clot that's formed.

Nasal tampons are a thing.
For nosebleeds that won't quit on their own with gentle pressure, doctors might stick things up your nose called "nasal tampons" that are exactly what they sound like: finger-shaped pieces of foam that go up your nose and expand to absorb blood. They might even have to stay up there for a few days.

Other "nasal-packing" options include balloons that can apply constant pressure, and other substances that gradually dissolve. If the source of the bleed is visible upon examination, the scrape or opening can be cauterized (a.k.a. burned) with silver nitrate so the wound closes. Your doctor will first apply a topical anesthetic, so it won't hurt.

When to worry.
As we've said, most nosebleeds are not a sign of anything serious, as terrifying as they may be in the moment. However, if you're getting nosebleeds that are either recurrent or persistent (meaning you're getting a couple in a month or one that just won't stop after 30 minutes), Dr. Rahmati says it's worth checking in with your doctor.

In rare instances, nosebleeds can be a sign of something more serious, such as a nasal tumor (but usually not a brain tumor, contrary to what Dr. Google may tell you) or an illness that affects your blood's ability to clot properly. Some medications — especially blood thinners — can also make frequent nosebleeds more likely. So, if you're worried, don't hesitate to ask your doctor what's up.
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