How to Stop Nosebleeds

*Buzzzz* My pager buzzes with the following message: “patient in 233 having a severe nosebleed, come now.” The patient is a 72yo woman on aspirin (an antiplatelet drug) and warfarin (an anticoagulant). When I walk into the room, multiple staff members are surrounding the patient. One is holding gauze under her nostrils as bright red blood is dripping down. I see that the patient is breathing normally and thinking clearly and is not in distress.

I instructed the nurses to hold firm pressure at the tip of her nose for 5 minutes without letting go. Also to keep the patient’s chin close to her chest in order to prevent blood from going into her trachea. Instead any blood would drip back into her esophagus or out her mouth. However, sensing the nurse’s reluctance, I placed my gloved hand over the patient’s nose and pinched firmly for 5 entire minutes without stopping. It must be a firm hold, to the point of slight discomfort to the patient. During the hold, the patient had some clots come out of her mouth during the first minute or so, but the bleed seemed to be slowing down. I timed the 5 minutes on the wall clock and then examined the patient’s nose.

When I let go, there was no further obvious bleeding. On exam with a light, there was an oozing spot visible in her right nostril. I ordered oxymetazoline (Afrin) nasal spray and had her RN apply two sprays to each nostril in order to cause constriction of the blood vessels in the patient’s nose. The patient had no further bleeding.

Most (about 90%) of the time, epistaxis (aka a nosebleed) comes from the front or anterior part of the nose; specifically, from a group of blood vessels called Kiesselbach’s plexus, as shown in the photo below. Compressing them can stop this kind of bleed.

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If a nosebleed happens to you or a loved one at home,

  • 1. the first step is to make sure that the person bleeding has a pulse, is breathing, speaking, thinking clearly and able to protect their airway; if any doubt on their ability to protect their airway, call 911.
  • 2. The next step for those who are safely protecting their airway is to begin by applying firm pressure as such, with the chin tucked close to the chest:
Anterior nasal pressure and chin tuck. Copyright Medicine Simply.
Anterior pressure, side view. Copyright Medicine Simply.
  • 3. Do not let go for a minimum of 5 minutes.

During the process of holding you may see some clots come out of your mouth or feel them go down your throat. However, if you continue to have unchanged, profuse bleeding, in particular down the back of the throat, despite firm anterior pressure, call 911 and go to your closest hospital emergency department as you may have a posterior nasal bleed. Posterior bleed tend to be dramatic–they don’t drip, they run like an open faucet. For anterior bleeds, however, firm pressure should noticeably dampen the bleed.

  • 4. After 5 full minutes of firm pressure, let go and inspect the nose for bleeding. If any further bleeding, apply two sprays of Afrin to each nostril and continue to hold firm pressure for another 5 to 10 minutes. If after 15 total minutes the bleeding has not stopped, seek emergency medical care, as you may need nasal cautery or packing by an ENT or emergency room physician or advanced provider.
  • 5. If bleeding has stopped but there is some oozing at the source, it is reasonable to apply two sprays of Afrin in the nare. Watch carefully for at least 30 minutes to ensure no recurrence of bleeding. Make note that Afrin is a great vasoconstrictor and decongestant but it should only be used for more than three days in a row as it can cause rebound nasal congestion.
  • 6. Once the bleeding stops, care for the site of bleeding by gently applying an antibiotic ointment such as bacitracin three times daily for three days.

If nosebleeds happen to you frequently, discuss them with your primary care provider (PCP) in order to discover why they may be happening.

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