What is Epistaxis | aka Nosebleed?

Nosebleeds, also known as epistaxis, are common issues that usually resolve on their own or are easily treated in a medical environment. for some patients, nosebleeds can be severe enough that further treatments are needed.

The majority of nose bleeds occur in the front of the nose called the septum and turbinates.

Nosebleed causes

The most common cause of nosebleeds is dry air. dry air can be caused by hot, low-humidity climates or heated indoor air. both environments cause the nasal membrane (the delicate tissue inside your nose) to dry out and become crusty or cracked and more likely to bleed when rubbed or picked or when blowing your nose.

Other causes:

  • Nose picking habit
  • Nasal allergy that increases the inflammation of the nose
  • Distorted nasal anatomy like a deviated nasal septum
  • Surgery or major trauma to the nose
  • Tumours and growths (these do not generally cause frank nose bleeds but rather blood-stained nasal discharge)
  • Blood thinning medication usually taken for stroke prevention and hypertension

Nosebleed treatments

Nosebleeds can happen when you least expect it. At the very least, they are alarming especially with small children, and at the worst, possibly life threatening. So what can you do about the bleeding nose and what action should you take after it has stopped bleeding?

The first thing is to stop the “stoppable” bleeding. Bleeding that comes from the front of the nose can be stopped by pressure. All other bleedings from the middle or back of the nose stops only by your own blood clotting or with medical attention. The first thing to do in a nose bleed is place your head forward, breathe through the mouth and press gently but firmly on the soft part of the nose. This is the lowest third of the nose that you can wiggle with your fingers. Placing your head forward means that you will be less likely to choke and swallow your blood, and any continuing bleeding is clear to see. Pressure should be applied for 15 minutes and this is usually more than enough to stop the small bleed, as our blood will effectively clot in less than 3 minutes. If you are on blood-thinning medication, this can take much longer.

After releasing the pressure, if there is no further active bleeding, this suggests that the bleeding is from the front of the nose. Dry weather and a long flight travel in a dry cabin may be the cause and applying some Vaseline ointment inside the nostrils will help. Seeking the early attention of your ENT Physician would be recommended so that a good check up can be done to prevent further bleeds and treating the underlying cause. You can usually expect that the nose will be clearly visualized with an endoscope of the front, middle and back of the nose. Sometimes a scan of the sinuses may be required as the cavities of the sinuses are not usually visible to the naked eye or endoscope. If a bleeding point is identified, it can be electro-cauterized and this is very successful in preventing future bleeding in 90% of cases. If a nasal allergy causing rhinitis exists, this is also easily treated with medication.

If the bleeding is especially heavy and/or does not stop, it is usually from the middle to the back of the nose. Here the reason is because the vessels are larger and we cannot physically press on them as they are situated inside the face. Situations such as this will require immediate attention at your nearest hospital as you may have lost a lot of blood. Your attending doctor’s priority would be to stop the bleeding first. This is usually undertaken with nasal packs placed into the nose. They are uncomfortable to put in but their intention is life saving. They may then possibly refer you to the ENT Physicians to identify with their special endoscopes where the bleeding is coming from, and treat you accordingly. Nowadays modern endoscopes for the body cavities have revolutionized epistaxis care. After identifying the bleeding point, if appropriate, the source maybe cauterized.

Nosebleeds are frightening for the sufferer as well as family and friends. Thankfully the majority of nosebleeds are minor and easily stopped by pressure as mentioned above. If the bleeding is unduly heavy and does not stop, urgent hospital attention should be sought.

kid nosebleed
image source from Getty Images

Nosebleeds in Children

Children commonly experience nosebleeds. This occurs for all sorts of reasons but generally children have thinner nasal linings that can break easily.

For children, they may have an underlying nasal allergy that:

  • makes them sneeze
  • makes them rub their nose
  • blocks the nose so there is more turbulence and drying
Kiesselbach plexus
image source from https://teachmesurgery.com/ent/nose/epistaxis/

One, or all of the above, causes the fine blood vessels to rupture and bleed in the Little’s area (it is the area the Kiesselbach plexus supplies blood to the anterior inferior (lower front) quadrant of the nasal septum).

Treating nosebleeds in children is relatively simple. If the cause is nasal allergy, that should be adequately treated. Thereafter persisting nose bleeds would require a more comprehensive examination to exclude less commoner causes. Sometimes a troublesome engorged vessel/s may require sealing.

The information on this website is for general educational purpose only. Readers should consult their physician before considering treatment, and should not interpret their condition solely based on the information above.